Illinois high school students are more likely to text while behind the wheel than their counterparts nationwide, according to a new study.
Some 38 percent of high school students across the nation text while driving, translating to nearly four in 10 students, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. At 42 percent, Illinois had a slightly higher percentage of high schoolers texting while driving than the national average in 2015.
The study was based on data obtained from 35 states that participated in the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
More than 100,000 students 14 and older took the survey.
Henry Haupt, deputy press secretary for the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, said the state has taken steps over the years to combat texting while driving.
“Illinois was one of the first states in the nation to ban texting while driving on all roads for all drivers,” he said. “This is a national problem. It impacts drivers of all ages.”
Secretary of State Jesse White initiated legislation this year that will impose a stricter penalty for texting while driving, Haupt said.
“This new law requires that any texting while driving be considered a moving violation and go on a motorist’s permanent driving record,” he said. “And if you get three moving violations within a one-year period of time, you lose your driving privileges.”
The new law will take effect July 1, 2019.
Under the existing law, first-time convictions for texting while driving are not considered moving violations, and therefore, do not go on a driver’s record.
In addition, Illinois’ existing driver licensing program, established by White in 2008, has reduced teen driving fatalities by more than 50 percent, Haupt said.
“The old law required that (teenagers) hold their permit for three months,” he said. “The current law requires that they hold their permit for nine months, which is longer than what many states have.”
This was done to allow teen drivers to have the opportunity to drive under a variety of weather conditions common to Illinois.
South Dakota had the highest percentage of high school students texting and driving at 64 percent, according to the study. Maryland was at the opposite end of the spectrum with 26 percent of high school students admitting to texting while driving.
“Secretary White continues to urge the driving public to focus on the task at hand,” Haupt said. “Drive safely, focus on the road and get to your destination in a safe and responsible manner.”