In surveys by the Allstate Foundation, 87 percent of teens say texting while driving is a huge risk. Another 65 percent describe themselves as good drivers who pay attention. Yet two-thirds of those same teens say they've texted behind the wheel themselves—and far more say they've made or answered a call. The top reason for taking such dangerous risks? Not thinking about consequences at that moment.
Strayer also blames denial. "People think they're better at multitasking than they actually are." Tech-toting teens are oblivious to things that would indicate poor driving, like swerving or hitting the brakes at the last minute. "Distracted drivers who come close to crashing don't even realize it," says Charlie Klauer, PhD, a research scientist at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute who placed cameras on the inside and outside of 100 cars and watched real-road driving. Teens think their behavior is safe if they take quick glances and keep checking the road, she says. (After all, other drivers take their eyes off the road to check their mirrors and change lanes.) But the difference is time: Klauer found that crash risk for drivers who look away from the road for more than two out of six seconds is two times greater than for an alert driver. And texting requires looking away for an average of 4.6 seconds. In fact, drivers are five times more likely to crash while texting and dialing than while glancing at a passenger.
Tyler Mayer of Greenville, Michigan, learned that lesson on the Fourth of July in 2009 while driving to a family gathering with his girlfriend. The 18-year-old checked an incoming text message and suddenly found his pickup heading off the road. Swerving, he lost control and rolled three times. "I only had my eyes off the road for a few seconds," he says. "But the truck was totaled." Fortunately, both teens were buckled up and escaped with minor bruises and scratches.