26% of Mobile Users Text While Driving

May 21, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Email | Telecom | Youth & Gen X

Despite an increasing number of state bans on driving while texting (DWT) and numerous reports of texting-related accidents, more than one-fourth (26%) of US mobile-phone users send and/or receive text messages while behind the wheel, finds a study from Vlingo.

Vlingo’s second annual Consumer Mobile Messaging Habits Report reveals that drivers in Tennessee are the worst offenders, with 42% of respondents from that state admitting to DWT. Arizona has the lowest percentage (18.8%), the study found.

As of May 2009, seven states and the District of Columbia have laws completely prohibiting any person from sending text messages while operating a vehicle. However, the research found no correllation between regulation and DWT activity:

  • Two of the top five worst offender states (Tenn., N.J. Idaho, Okla., Alaska) have some form of DWT/mobile phone ban in place or pending (one of which is focused solely on young drivers).
  • Of the five states with the best records (Ariz., Vt., R.I, Ohio, Mich.), only R.I. has a ban on DWT and it only applies to those under the age of 18.

Not surprisingly, the propensity for DWT varies by age. Almost 60% of the US’s youngest drivers (ages 16 – 19) admit to DWT as do 49% of those ages 20-29, Vlingo said.? The percentages get lower for older respondents (as do the percentages for texting in general), but 13% of people in their 50s still admit to DWT.

Among survey respondents there is general consensus that DWT should be legally banned. Just more than 83% of respondents think DWT should be illegal, while only 7% think DWT should be legal, and 10% are undecided. However, 40% favor making DWT legal with more safety precautions, such as voice-recognition technology that enables hands-free texting.

Texting on the Rise

The study also revealed that text messaging in general is on the rise across all age groups, with nearly 60% of mobile phone users now reporting they send or receive text messages. This compares with 54% in 2008. Again, percentages are highest among the youngest mobile users, though a significant portion of those in their 40s and 50s report texting as well:

  • In 2008, 85% of teens and 20-somethings used texting.
  • In 2009, 94% of teens and 87% of 20-somethings used texting.
  • Among those in their 40s, usage jumped from 56% to 64.
  • For those in their 50s use of texting jumped from 38% to 46%.

Texting is also gaining on sending/receiving calls as the primary use of mobile phones, with 35% of all respondents using their phones for texting more than for phone calls, the survey found. Almost half of respondents do both in equal numbers.

The volume of text messages has gone up as well across all age groups, although the 13-19-year-old age group remains the most active, sending an average of more than 500 texts per month.

High Costs, Tiny Keypads Barriers to Texting

Despite the popularity of mobile data services, 41% of survey respondents say they do not text, while 70% do not browse the web, and 73% do not use email on their mobile phones. The survey found that cost is one of the main reasons for non-adoption:

  • 44% cite cost as a barrier to adopting text messaging
  • 59% cite cost as a barrier to web browsing
  • 53% cite cost as a reason for not adopting mobile email

Among those who do not text message, 27% cite the difficulty of typing on a tiny keyboard as a barrier, while 37% say it takes too much time to type. However, usability enhancements such as voice enablement would increase usage : 74% report that they would use voice enablement as a way to make text messaging easier.

About the research: The Vlingo Consumer Mobile Messaging Habits Report was fielded by independent panel research firm Toluna and responses were generated from a survey among 4,816 online opinion panel members (ages 13+) living in the continental US. The sample was matched to US Census proportions on gender, age and ethnicity and included approximately 100 respondents from each of the 48 contiguous US states. Respondents were also screened for mobile phone ownership and usage.


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