Use of cell phones while driving may be tied to other risky road behaviors in young adults

A new study from researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 18- to 24-year-olds who use cell phones while driving are more likely to engage in other risky driving behaviors associated with “acting-without-thinking,” a form of impulsivity. The findings suggest the importance of developing new strategies to prevent risky driving in young adults, especially those with impulsive personalities.

Adolescent in the driver’s seat of a car looking at their cell phone.

The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Cell phone use while driving has been linked to increased crash and near-crash risk. Despite bans on handheld cell phone use while driving in many states, crash reduction results are inconsistent. One explanation may be that those who use cell phones while driving are more likely to engage in other intentionally risky behaviors. Instead of solely addressing the use of cell phones while driving, the authors suggest training young drivers to avoid all risky behaviors associated with impulsivity and sensation seeking.

“This study found that frequent cell phone use while driving was only one indicator of a more general pattern of risky driving practices associated with prior crashes in young drivers,” says lead study author Elizabeth Walshe, a research scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at CHOP and co-leader of CHOP’s Neuroscience of Driving research program. Added Walshe, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC): “Assessment of personality traits, such as impulsivity and sensation seeking, may be helpful to identify drivers most at risk in order to provide more targeted interventions promoting safe driving.”

The study was coauthored by Flaura K. Winston, the founder and scientific director of CIRP and an APPC distinguished research fellow, and APPC research director Dan Romer, Ph.D.

Read more at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.