Just before Valentine's Day, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission released some
heartbreaking numbers: Distracted-driving fatalities jumped 32% between 2014 and 2015 in Washington.
The culprit behind 71% of the distraction?
You guessed it. Cell phones.
But before you blame Millennials unable to disconnect from their phones long enough to finish a meal, consider this. Older drivers – people between 45 and 59 – are four times more likely to swerve out of their lanes when they text and drive than 18- to 20-year-olds, according to a
2014 study from Wayne State University in Michigan.
Researchers tested 50 drivers on a driving simulator. Each owned a smartphone, claimed to be a prolific texter, and rated him or herself as "proficient at texting with one hand." Not surprisingly, all drivers' performance dropped when they tried to text and navigate the simulated course.
But then came the truly unexpected result. Older drivers' experience and generally safer driving habits did little to help them. In fact, the older the driver, the more likely he or she was to accidentally cross from one lane to another. For drivers in the 45-59 age group, 100% drifted into the neighboring lane. The numbers improved as age dropped: Drivers ages 35-44 strayed 80% of the time; ages 25-34, 40%; and ages 18-24, 25%.
Researchers speculated that older people tend to look more at their screens while texting. Another possibility: They may be less able to handle the cognitive demands of multitasking while driving.
While more research is needed to sort out the whys, the "what" couldn't be clearer: Texting and driving is unsafe no matter who is behind the wheel, and years of driving experience is no substitute for paying attention to the road.