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Some teens are more likely to text and drive. Here’s why.

Certain personality traits among teens are more likely to cause risky driving behavior, according to a new study. Steve Garfield/Flickr
Certain personality traits among teens are more likely to cause risky driving behavior, according to a new study. Steve Garfield/Flickr

By J.R. Williams
jrw@familysignal.com

You have two children. One is more agreeable. The other is more conscientious. Which is more likely to text and drive?

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say there’s evidence to support the latter. Adolescents with certain personality traits can be more likely to engage in risky driving behavior, according to a new study published this month in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

The authors squared the results of two surveys on personality and distracted driving given to 120 people in groups they called “high risk” — teenagers and older adults.

They found that conscientious teens, who are more likely to feel obligated to respond to messages right away, were more likely to text and drive. Agreeable teens who may have more respect for rules and the law were less likely to text behind the wheel.

If your teen hasn't responded to your text message in 10 minutes, they might be doing something more important: keeping their eyes on the road.

“This study showed us that personality traits are an important factor in understanding distracted driving tendencies,” said Morgan Parr, an undergraduate psychology student at UAB, in a news release announcing the study’s results. Conscientious teens feel the need “to maintain peers’ perception of their dependability,” she said, which can lead to interacting with a cellphone in a dangerous circumstance.

UAB points out that nearly half of all car crashes are associated with distracted driving, with 10 percent resulting in a fatality. Of course, we know that inexperienced drivers are more likely to be involved in those crashes.

The distracted driving survey used in the study asks respondents to report the number of times per day in a two-week period they talk on their cellphones, send text messages or interact with their device while driving. The personality test, known as the “Big Five” — openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism — showed that openness to experience was associated with risky driving behaviors among teens.

Our takeaway for parents: No matter your child’s personality type, let them know you don’t expect them to respond while they’re in the car. In case there’s a true emergency, your kids can pull over and call you back if they hear you call two times in a row.

This is also an opportunity for parents to remember that if your teen hasn’t responded to your text message in 10 minutes, they might be doing something more important: keeping their eyes on the road. Of course, with FamilySignal, you’ll know if they’re on the highway before you text.

Among older adults, the researchers found that extraversion was associated with distracted driving, although they said that was the only result among that population significant enough to report.

The authors say the study’s results can help “tailor our injury prevention efforts to appeal to drivers with specific personality traits” that are more likely to text and drive.


J.R. Williams
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