More teenage drivers are talking on their cell phones while driving in North Carolina despite a new state law forbidding young drivers to use the phones while behind the wheel.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported the finding following a two-part study that coupled researcher observations of teenage driving habits with telephone surveys of teens and their parents.
The North Carolina ban for drivers younger than age 18 using a cell phone is part of the state's graduated licensing system.
Teenagers are gabbing away while driving even though young drivers and their parents said they strongly support the restrictions.
Parents and teens alike told researchers the ban on hand-held and hands-free phone use is not being enforced in the state. The study concluded that the North Carolina law is not reducing teen cell phone use while driving.
Just 2 months prior to the ban which began December 1, 2006, 11 percent of teen drivers were observed using cell phones as they left school in the afternoon.
About 5 months after the ban took effect, almost 12 percent of teen drivers were observed using phones and driving.
"Most young drivers comply with graduated licensing restrictions such as limits on nighttime driving and passengers, even when enforcement is low," said Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research and an author of the study.
"The hope in North Carolina was that the same would hold true for cell phone use, but this wasn't the case. Teen drivers' cell phone use actually increased a little. Parents play a big role in compliance with graduated licensing rules. Limiting phone use may be tougher for them since many want their teens to carry phones," McCartt said.
When surveyed after the cell phone restrictions took effect, teenage drivers were more likely than parents to say they knew about the ban. Only 39 percent of parents said they were aware of the cell phone law, compared with 64 percent of teen drivers.
Support for the ban was greater among parents at 95 percent than teens at 74 percent.
Most parents and teen drivers agreed that police officers weren't looking for cell phone violators. Seventy-one percent of teens and 60 percent of parents reported that enforcement was rare or nonexistent.
Phone bans for young drivers are becoming commonplace as concerns mount about the contribution of distractions to teens' elevated crash risk.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia restrict both hand-held and hands-free phone use by young drivers. Six states and DC bar all drivers from using hand-helds.