The prevalence and correlates of texting while driving among a population-based sample of Ontario students

Objective: Texting while driving (TWD) has a deleterious impact on driving performance and may pose a significant challenge to traffic safety. This challenge may be particularly relevant for young and inexperienced drivers. This study examined the prevalence and risk factors of writing text messages or emails while driving during the past 12 months.

Method: This study analyzed a subpopulation of 1,133 licensed students 16 years of age or older from the 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey (OSDUHS), a population-based survey of students in Ontario, Canada.

Results: Our results indicate that 36% of licensed drivers reported writing a text message while driving during the past 12 months; of those who did, 56% reported doing so 4 or more times. Graduated licensing was the strongest factor predicting TWD. Compared to students with the more restrictive G1 license, students with a G2 or full license were 9.4 times more likely to report TWD after controlling for the effect of all other factors. Older students, white students, and students attending school in urban centers were more likely to report TWD, and the amount of time spent on social media sites, being a passenger with a driver using substances, and past-year collisions were also significantly associated with TWD. Gender differences and participation in driver education training were not associated with TWD.

Conclusions: This research demonstrates that TWD is an extremely common behavior among licensed student drivers in Ontario, particularly among those who have passed the first stage of graduated licensing. TWD is associated with other risky driving behaviors and outcomes, and the findings from this study underscore the need to better understand the harms associated with this behavior.