Three out of four Texans at least occasionally speak on a cellphone while driving and nearly half sometimes read or text while driving, according to a study released Monday of 3,000 drivers by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
The institute surveyed drivers in April and May of 2013 at 12 state driver's license offices around the state about their driving habits. Senior research scientist Katie Womack, who led the study, called the sample “a reasonable reflection of Texas drivers.”
The researchers found that 76 percent of drivers said they had talked on a cellphone while driving at least once in the previous month, with 24 percent acknowledging that they did so regularly. Forty-four percent of respondents said they had read or typed texts or emails while driving, and 18.5 percent said they had looked at Facebook or other websites while driving.
Anglos were less likely than other groups to view cellphone use while driving as risky, according to the study.
Womack said the most surprising result of the study came from analyzing the respondents’ education. People with higher education were more likely to speak on the phone, text or look at Facebook or other websites while driving than those with lower education.
“That’s pretty different from what we see with other traffic safety issues like alcohol-imparied driving and not wearing seatbelts,” Womack said. “Usually there’s a negative relationship between education and the behavior; in this case, it’s the opposite.”
Womack said she wasn’t sure what leads people with higher education to use mobile devices more while driving, but described it as an area that warrants further study.
The survey found that 49 percent of respondents "strongly agreed" that texting while driving should be illegal in Texas.
Texas is one of just a handful of states without a statewide texting while driving ban, though some Texas cities have implemented bans. Statewide, texting and handheld phone use is banned while driving through active school zones and in all instances for school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18. Forty-three states currently ban texting while driving for all drivers, and 12 states ban all handheld cellphone use while driving, according to federal data.
In recent legislative sessions, Texas lawmakers have debated whether to further restrict mobile phone use while driving. In 2011, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that would have banned texting while driving statewide. In the last legislative session, a texting-while-driving ban passed the House but failed to draw enough support in the Senate.
Becca Aaronson contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.