Study: Many N.C. teens ignoring cellphone ban

“We’ve passed a law that’s impossible to enforce,” North Carolina state Sen. Stan Bingham said of the state’s cellphone ban for teen drivers.

RALEIGH, — North Carolina adopted a cellphone ban for teen drivers in 2006, but a recently published study has found that many teens ignore the law and more are engaging in the highly hazardous practice of texting and driving.

The results of the study by the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina appear in the current issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention. It is based on the observation of 5,000 teen drivers leaving high school parking lots.

State Sen. Stan Bingham, a Republican from Denton and a sponsor of the ban, said he was disappointed by the findings, but not surprised. He said the law may be redrawn.

“We’ve passed a law that’s impossible to enforce,” he said. “This study will be used to aid future legislation.”

In the UNC study, researchers observed the driving behavior of teen drivers in North Carolina in 2006 and repeated the observations two years later, after the cellphone ban was passed.

For the study, a researcher was stationed at the exit of a high school parking lot, and noted whether each driver was talking or physically manipulating a phone, presumably texting.

In their observations, overall cellphone use among the teen drivers had decreased slightly in the two years since the law passed, 11 percent to 9.7 percent. But the number of texting teen drivers in North Carolina has gone up, about a 40 percent increase between the year of the ban and the researchers’ observations two years later.

Due to the pace of peer review and academic publishing, the study is surfacing now. The frequency of teens texting while driving is probably higher today, said Arthur Goodwin, a senior research associate at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center who led the study.

The study is the only one of its kind to actually observe teen driving and cellphone use in North Carolina. More recent data involves self-reported activity in surveys of a broader range of ages.

In 2011, for instance, the Harris Poll reported texting while driving is much more common among younger drivers.

Fully 49 percent of drivers with cellphones under 35 send or read text messages while driving compared to 11 percent of baby boomers and less than 1 percent of people over 65; the poll found.

In interviews, teens said texting and driving is widespread despite the cellphone ban.