It turns out that the teens of Houston find it impossible to get behind the wheel without first pulling out their phones.
A nationwide study done by The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and Toyota's Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) found that 27 percent of Houston teens read a text or e-mail every single time they drive a car.
Shockingly, this puts them slightly below the national average of 30 percent.
Teens are not only reading texts, they are responding, with 24 percent hitting the reply button. A whopping 22 percent are carrying on extended conversations via texts while cruising down the road.
Dr. Tina Sayer, principal engineer for CSRC, says parents must model the type of driving behavior they want their children to emulate. "Driver education begins the day a child's car seat is turned around to face front," she says. (See "What young drivers need to know.")
Texas is one of the few states that does not ban texting and has no prohibition against handheld cellphone use by adult drivers. Novice drivers are restricted on both counts. (Several Texas cities, including Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Amarillo and El Paso, have stricter local laws.)
The Texas Department of Transportation says distracted driving was a factor in 90,378 crashes in 2012, causing 453 deaths and 18,468 serious injuries. Gov. Rick Perry firmly opposes a texting ban.
Other findings of the study included:
Everyone is doing it - Drivers of all ages are using their phones behind the wheel. Sixty-seven percent of Houston teens and 83 percent of parents are using a cell phone while driving.
Peer passengers - According to the study, 62 percent of teen drivers in Houston claim they drive with two to three peer passengers and no adults. Nationally, the number is 69 percent. Even worse, 35 percent reported regularly driving with more than three teens in the car. Teen passengers double a driver's risk of being killed in a car crash, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Social media is a risk - Social media and other electronic distractions are creating huge risks for teen drivers. Houston teens search their MP3 players much more than their parents, with 55 percent flipping through their songs compared with 13 percent for the parents. If that is not dangerous enough, 12 percent of teens are updating or checking social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter while driving.
The UMTRI/Toyota Teen Driver Distraction Study is based on the results of a telephone survey of 300 teens age 16 to 18 and 402 parents who lived in the Houston area. The study also included the local surveys in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Long Island, N.Y.