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Half of All U.S. Teens Now Have Cell Phones – Safety Concerns Loom

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If you have observed any gathering place of teens — malls, school and campus, movie theaters, concerts, etc. — you may have come away with the impression that every other kid has a cell phone and is afraid not to use it.

Your impression was correct: almost half of 10 – 18 year olds in the U.S. use cell phones, representing a total market value of $10.7 billion, according to a study released yesterday by market research firm GfK NOP Technology.

“The teen and tween market is a critical one for wireless providers to capture, with 70% of its value coming from kids who spend more than $50 per month on their phone service,” says Ben Rogers, Vice President, GfK NOP Technology. “Clearly, the days when parents admonished their kids to use cell phones only for emergencies are over. Now, cell phones are a staple of teen and tween life, not only for calling friends and family but also for a range of other activities.

“For instance, 53% of kids play games on their phones, with more than a third downloading new games … 52% use their phone’s calendar/organizer option … and nearly all teens who have camera phones are snapping pictures. In addition, the overwhelming majority of teen and tween cell phone owners — 89% — have used or changed their ring tones, to add a personal touch to their cells.”

Teen Lindsey Bosse of tony Telluride, Colo., writes that a cell phone is de rigueur: “Not only does it matter if you have a cell phone, but you have to have a ‘cool’ cell phone. The cool cell phones are small, have color screens, have the ability to buy games, ringtones and music, and take pictures and send them to others. Usually it helps if they have cool, colored cases and they are slip or sliding phones … My cell phone is pretty big, doesn’t flip, has a black and white screen, really lame games, and no camera, but I would like to tell you something amazing it does. It allows people to call me anywhere anytime.”

Including in the car, and that is a big problem.

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of teenage fatalities, with young drivers twice as likely to die on the road as older drivers. Learning how to drive and becoming efficient in traffic requires all the concentration a new driver can muster.

National Transportation Safety Board research has shown that drivers who use a wireless telephone while driving can lose situational awareness and experience “inattention blindness,” and cell phone use by 20 year–olds can decrease their response time to that of a 70 year–old driver.

So, if you have a typical teen driving while talking on a cell phone, you have a hormone-addled, distracted, antsy showoff with delusions of indestructability and the response time of a 70 year-old: yes, I generalized to make a point but it’s a pretty grim picture nonetheless, especially with half of all teens now having phones.

As a result, last month the NTSB urged states to pass laws banning all cell phone use among teenage drivers. Eleven states — Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Tennessee, Maine, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland — and DC have passed some form of law against drivers under 18 talking while tooling, and Michigan has a bill pending.

“Common sense tells you that with inexperienced drivers on the road, anything we can do to keep their attention on the roadway is beneficial for all of us,” said state Rep. David Law, who sponsored the Michigan bill.

While we are still in the early stages of developing cell phone culture, the time is now to firmly establish parameters for their safe use, especially for youngsters.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://dianahartman.blogspot.com/ diana hartman

    the legislation is laughable…

    motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause of death for young drivers before cell phones…cell phones just sweeten the reaper’s deal for both young and old…
    what every state in the union ought be doing is requiring everyone who wants a driver’s license to attend and pass driver’s school, not driver’s ed…
    driver’s ed is little more than a tutorial in turn signals, and not a very good one at that…in the same ineffective vein, legislating a driver’s cellphone use is a bandaid on the head wound on the other side of the windshield…

    why should teens take driving seriously when adults don’t? and then we want to tell them not to talk while they’re at it? good luck with that…we’re not even holding them accountable for their seat belts…

    driving is serious business and not a constitutional right…those tasked with cleaning up and doing the paperwork after every life-altering or life-ending wreck aren’t going to see a lull in the work even if this legislation passes…

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    The best thing about cell phones is not having one.

    Harumph!

  • JR

    …those tasked with cleaning up and doing the paperwork after every life-altering or life-ending wreck aren’t going to see a lull in the work even if this legislation passes…

    Does that job pay well?

  • http://www.ryanclarkholiday.com ryan

    thats what we need. more laws telling us what to do.

    RyanClarkHoliday.com

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Lisa McKay

    Eleven states — Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Tennessee, Maine, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland — and DC have passed some form of law against drivers under 18 talking while tooling, and Michigan has a bill pending.

    As of October 1, it’s illegal for all drivers in Connecticut to use a cell phone unless it’s equipped with a hands-free headset. My recollection is that research has shown that hands-free phone use while driving isn’t any safer than hands-on use – it’s apparently the distraction that makes for dangerous driving. I think Diana is quite right that these laws aren’t likely to make us any safer – as a society, we seem to prefer multitasking to taking driving seriously.

  • JR

    Can we make it illegal to talk on the phone and wear a seatbelt at the same time?

  • Nancy

    Adults are just as idiotic & careless when they drive & use cell phones as kids are. If cell phone users want to kill themselves, fine. Fewer fools in the gene pool. I do object to them taking innocent people with them, which is generally the case. No one should be driving and doing anything else, whether it be yapping on a cell phone of any sort, putting on makeup, eating, getting dressed, reading the papers (!) or anything but paying attention to the road. However I also don’t see how it could be enforced, unless cars are built with some sort of mechanism that would automatically block a cell transmission when that particular engine is on.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    some states will supposedly fine people for inattentive driving.

    doesn’t help after the person has caused an accident though.

    actually, probably doesn’t help anyway.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I view my teen’s cell phone as the single most safety-enhancing product produced in my lifetime. Now I can find out where she is and what she’s doing at any given time, and I know that if she’s in danger she has the ability to call someone for help. It counteracts much of the hysterically heightened concern we have these days over the dangers of youngsters being out in public ont heir own.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    Yes – they can be indeed; but not when someone is driving or otherwise occupied doing something that requires their attention, when very few people are capable of walking & chewing gum safely to begin with. And I include myself.

  • Eric Olsen

    Dave, I agree with you about cell phones being a terrific safety device, and if they were only used in that way there wouldn’t be any downside. But with all the bells and whistles being added almost daily, it is almost always going to be the young who adapt to new technology most enthusiastically and turn it into a “lifestyle” – which is also fine as long as safety parameters are acknowledged as necessary and taken seriously. At least these laws do that. And I agree the laws should be for all drivers, not just minors.

  • http://dianahartman.blogspot.com/ diana hartman

    However I also don’t see how it could be enforced, unless cars are built with some sort of mechanism that would automatically block a cell transmission when that particular engine is on.

    and it won’t be enforced any more than is the wearing of seat belts…by the time a licensed driver is on the road it’s too late to begin driving lessons…just about every driving law on the books is nothing more than a feeble attempt to educate those already in possession of a license…additionally, the consequences of any violation is too insignignificant to have any lasting impact…when even the deadliest drunk drivers can look forward to freedom in 18 months, what does a kid care about a speeding ticket?

    the system isn’t set up to produce good drivers…there is no expectation or responsibility to be a good driver…the system is set up to tolerate even the worst driver doing the worst thing…

    look at how many people can actually parallel park…if you can’t put your car in the tightest spot, it’s a fair indicator that you don’t even know where your car begins and ends…these are not people i want anywhere near me in a moving vehicle…

    it’s been well worth the money to send my kids to driving school…i split the cost with each of them — money they had to earn as i would not allow them to take it from their college funds…they don’t have the cavalier attitude of their peers because they actually know what it feels like to hit a patch of ice and feel the car swirl rapidly into a ditch per the set up on the grounds of the school…this is humbling to someone who’s never had that happen with 2,000 lbs of metal in their hands before…in the context of driving school, it has the preferred impact of realization rather than in real life where that impact is with another car or a tree…
    my kids paid a significant amount of money for and spent a lot of time in driving school…here in germany, tickets are most often issued for unsafe driving regardless of the speed…those tickets are often four times more expensive than in the states and in more cases than not, the license is taken away for an extended time…drive without it and get caught? you go to jail, period…the kids aren’t willing to chance the consequences given their tremendous investment…the 30% discount on their insurance is not a shabby bonus either…

    in lieu of the states requiring driving school, it’s every person’s responsibility to insure they are adequately prepared, educated, and trained to operate a motor vehicle…as a parent driver, that responsibility extends to my children…

  • Eric Olsen

    I agree with you about driving school, which I and both my two driving kids took also. I don’t really agree that the law doesn’t take driving seriously though, because virtualy all the laws have been tightened up and the consequences made increasingly serious over the last 20 years or so.

    And there is no perfection in legislating changes in behavior, such as seatbelts, but I would certainly say the combination of legal and PR campaigns have made wearing them the expectation and the norm, which is a big change from the past.

    A similar legal/PR campaign could achieve the same for cell phones and driving, which would be a great improvement over the current situation.

  • Eric Olsen

    I am also amazed that no one is amazed that HALF of all U.S. 10-18 year-olds have a cell phone

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i was actually amazed that the number wasn’t closer to 80-90%.

  • Eric Olsen

    but isn’t that quite a large “automatic” expense built into the lives of half the kids in the nation?

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    oh it definitely is. man, you see stories about how much money is spent on ringtones alone. scary.

  • Eric Olsen

    yeah, teh joke is that kids are happy to pay fro music over the Internet as long as it sounds like shit and isn’t more than 30 seconds long

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i have a cell phone only for convenience sake. it’s a 3 or 4 year old nokia. no flip. black & white screen.

    hell, i can’t even get my voicemail messages on it.

    signed,

    cell phone dinosaur

  • Nancy

    I went looking for a bigger one, since the tiny little thing I was gifted makes me nervous, besides the fact I can’t poke one button w/out hitting the 4 around it, making dialing almost impossible w/out a pencil or some small stick device. HATE these things.

  • with karate ill kik ur ass

    is it not illegal to drive and talk on ur mobiles in america, coz in britain u it is, strictly speaking ur not even allowed to have a hands free while u drive.

  • Nancy

    In general, no. It depends on which state you’re in. DC (the District of Columbia) passed a law last year proscribing using your hands for a cell phone, but you can use a “hands-free” one. MD & VA have no restrictions, and I have no idea about other states, but I understand there are some that also allow hands-free while theoretically restricting hand-held phones. But I have no clue how much these laws are enforced, either. Probably not much unless it causes an accident that allows the driver to get caught red-handed, as it were.

  • with karate ill kik ur ass

    soon the mobiles will get so comlicated and technilogical that ppl will stop buying them coz they coast to much

  • Nancy

    What seems to me the outside of enough is that there are now televisions for inside the car. Theoretically they’re to keep the kids quiet, but I from what I’ve seen, they’re even more distracting to the driver(s) than cell phones are.

  • with karate ill kik ur ass

    complicated not comlicated

  • Eric Olsen

    Maryland does have full restrictions on cell use in cars. See the map of the states with full and partial restrictions here.

    The big thing isn’t TV for cars, but DVD. With a just turned 6 year-old and a 22 month old, we wouldn’t even consider any drive over an hour or so without it. And the sound is in the back – I don’t even really hear it

  • Ryan

    Wow. Your article is extremely biased and informative. Especially your comment, “So, if you have a typical teen driving while talking on a cell phone, you have a hormone-addled, distracted, antsy showoff with delusions of indestructability and the response time of a 70 year-old: yes, I generalized to make a point but it’s a pretty grim picture nonetheless, especially with half of all teens now having phones.” All I have to say people that worry over the stupidest things in life is that the world is not perfect. You cannnot stop the expansion of the cell phone industry and especially teenagers from having them. Get over it and do better things with your time. And the next time you say something ignorant like “hormone-addled, distracted, antsy showoff with delusions of indestructability” look at older people (like yourself) and their disrespect for younger adults like teenagers.

  • Elizabeth

    This article is a real doozey. Although it is true that teens base their life on what phone they have, there are still some of us teens out there who don’t give a you know what about it. A small group in my highschool-very small-does not carry. We’re also the green peace, hippie-ish looking crowd, but we manage. I actually have a cell phone, but i only use it to call my mom when i get home from driving, or, holding it up so my friends could hear mick jagger belt out the chorus to “it’s only rock n roll” at a recent concert.

    so not to much to be worrying about in orlando, florida.

  • rose jonshen

    I think that my teens are most carefull with there cellphones because they now that if they use there cellphone when driving it is dengersons so I think they will listen to us if we teach them

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