While Texas is the top state in the nation for the prevalence and effectiveness of impaired driving laws, it ranks almost last in the category of distracted driving laws.
WalletHub — a personal finance website that released their annual “Best and Worst States for Teen Drivers” report — has been conducting yearly investigations into teen driving across the 50 states since 2014, analyzing factors relating to three key dimensions: safety conditions, economic environment and driving laws.
Texas performed well in some categories, such as presence of impaired driving laws and laws protecting the occupant of vehicles, where it ranked first and fifth respectively. However, Texas ranked toward the bottom of the list for categories such as average cost of vehicle repairs and quality of roads, where Texas ranked 36 and 31, respectively. Texas ranked toward the middle of the list for number of DUIs per teen population and number of teen driver fatalities per teen population, at numbers 24 and 28, respectively.
According the Center for Disease Control, motor vehicle accidents are consistently the leading cause of death between the ages of 16 and 19. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more new teens receive their licenses during the summer than any other time, resulting in more new drivers on the road and increasing the chances for accidents.
To address factors related to these safety statistics, WalletHub’s research team — which comprised six experts in categories, such as engineering, vehicle safety and public policy — spent one month analyzing data from sources, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation, among others.
The state is almost in last place for the presence of distracted driving laws, coming in at number 42 on the list.
“The biggest worry today by far is distraction, both by technology and by others in the car,” said Sean Brennan, an analyst on the team and an engineering professor at Pennsylvania State University.
UT police officer William Pieper, however, said that while laws are an important step in reducing distracted and impaired driving, education also plays an essential role in maintaining safety.
“The laws are sufficient because we have laws that cover a lot of different conditions. DWI laws don’t just cover alcohol, they cover a lot of different inhibitors,” Pieper said. “Prevention has very little to do with the law and more to do with public education and having viable options and alternatives, like buses and cabs, to reduce the temptation to drive your vehicle [while distracted or impaired.]”
According to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an average of 220 teens are killed in car accidents each month in the U.S., with higher numbers occurring from June to November.
“Lack of experience plays the biggest part,” Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for WalletHub, said. “Most teens don’t know how to handle dangerous situations.”
Gonzalez said that while Texas falls in the middle range for most categories, policymakers should make an effort to create even safer conditions.
“Texas already has some policies in place that aim to prevent drunk driving and improve safety conditions, such as impaired driving laws and red-light and speeding-camera laws,” Gonzalez said. “But the state’s government should try to make an effort to make these laws enforceable and effective so that the safety conditions improve even further.”