Teen texting and driving in car alone

Nearly one-quarter of surveyed parents said they don’t apply teen driver saftey rules to their children, and of those parents, nearly half don’t enforce cellphone restrictions. And, half of parents admitted to texting while driving with their teens in the car.

CarInsurance.com surveyed about 1,000 parents of teens to find out what role they play in helping their children comply with Graduated Driver License (GDL) laws designed to keep teen drivers safe. States restrict teens through GDL laws, which in many states limit when teens can drive and who’s in the vehicle. Many of these states maintain the restrictions until drivers turn 17 or 18, but there is a growing movement to expand those limitations. New Jersey currently is the only state that has GDL laws until the age of 21.

The CarInsurance.com survey found that nearly one-quarter of parents surveyed said they either sometimes or never enforce GDL laws for their teens.

Parents who fail to have their teen drivers comply with GDL laws provided the following reasons:

  • 33% said the teen doesn’t always listen to them.
  • 29% said they don’t know GDL laws.
  • 25% said they don’t think GDL laws are fair.
  • 23% said they pick and choose what laws their child follows.
  • 20% said the teen’s friends always need transportation and so it’s hard to say no.
  • 6% said GDL laws aren’t necessary.

Of parents who fail to enforce teen driving laws, (respondents could choose more than one topic):

  • 49% don’t enforce cell phone restrictions.
  • 45% don’t enforce passenger restrictions.
  • 36% don’t enforce time restrictions.
  • 30% don’t enforce electronics ban.
  • 18% don’t enforce supervised driving hours (i.e., they fudge the hours).
  • 7% allow their teen to drive alone though it’s against the law.

Parents admit to texting while driving when their teen is in the car

Despite ranking texting while driving as the fourth worst driving habit (behind speeding, distracted driving and failing to stay in the lane while turning) for their teens, many parents text behind the wheel with their children in the car.

Slightly more than half (51 percent) of parents text while driving with their teen, at least on occasion. Here’s how they responded when asked how much they text while driving with their teen passenger:

  • 49% said never
  • 26% said hardly ever, just a few times when I felt it was necessary
  • 17% said sometimes, when I feel I can still do it safely
  • 8% said frequently, I know I shouldn’t but it’s a bad habit

In many states, texting while driving is illegal. In a few states, texting while driving is against the law only for teen drivers.

Driver texting laws vary by state

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association said 47 states ban text messaging for all drivers. Two of the three states without a texting ban do have texting restrictions for novice drivers.

Here are seven different states to show the differences between regulations:

  • California — Prohibits use of any handheld electronic device while driving.
  • Iowa — Adults can’t text while driving; teens can’t use any handheld electronic device.
  • Missouri — Illegal to text while driving if you’re under 21 or operating a commercial vehicle.
  • New York — Bans portable electronic device use while a car is in motion.
  • Nebraska — Forbids texting while driving. Drivers under 18 or who have a learner’s permit can’t use any cell phones.
  • Ohio — Illegal for all drivers, but police can stop drivers under the age of 18 solely for texting while driving; adult drivers need a secondary charge to get pulled over.
  • Texas — Bans texting while driving.

View our driver texting and cellphone laws and penalties by state list to see what restrictions apply in your state for both teens and adults, and how citations affect your car insurance rates. 

According to a CarInsurance.com rate analysis, getting a ticket for texting while driving could increase your rates by as much as 23 percent on average, depending on your insurer, what state you live in and your driving record.

Texting and driving for teens

Despite laws against texting while driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that about 30 percent of teens say they’ve texted while driving. The NHTSA said a teen’s risk of an accident increases six-fold when dialing a phone number.

The NHTSA estimates that 3,450 died in 2016 because of distracted driving and another 91,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015. The organization said teens were the largest age group reportedly distracted at the time of fatalities.

Other sobering statistics from NHTSA:

  • Nine percent of fatal crashes in 2016 were distraction-affected crashes.
  • Six percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the accident.
  • Nine percent of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were distracted.
  • In 2016, there were 562 non-occupants, including pedestrians and bicyclists, killed in distraction-affected crashes.
  • Hand-held cell phone use while driving is highest among 15- to 29-year-old drivers.

How can society work to reduce those numbers? The NHTSA offers these tips:

  • Turn off electronic devices when driving.
  • Be good role models for young drivers and talk with your teens about responsible driving.
  • Speak up if a driver is using an electronic device. Offer to make the call for the driver.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against unsafe drivers.


Car insurance rates for teens

Even for teens who have a perfect driving record, car insurance rates are super expensive because insurers consider them to be inexperienced, high-risk drivers. Read the car insurance guides below to find average rates by age, state, gender and coverage level, as well as ways to save on teen driver coverage.

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Michelle Megna
Contributing Researcher

Michelle is a writer, editor and expert on car insurance and personal finance. She's a former CarInsurance.com editorial director. Prior to joining CarInsurance.com, she reported and edited articles on technology, lifestyle, education and government for magazines, websites and major newspapers, including the New York Daily News.