Last month at Vlingo we released the findings of our second annual Consumer Mobile Messaging Habits survey that measures the percentage of people that admit to Driving While Texting (DWT). The bottom line: despite a number of high profile tragedies caused by DWT over the past year and an increasing number of laws banning DWT, about 1 in 4 people still admit to texting behind the wheel of their car. (You can request a copy of the full report by going to: http://vlingo.com/habits.)

One of the more interesting findings in our survey is that the number of people who DWT doesn’t seem to have any correlation to whether or not the state they live in has a law banning DWT. For example, Arizona has the best record of all states, with only 18.8% admitting to DWT, yet Arizona has no law whatsoever against the practice. On the other hand, New Jersey is one of only six states to have a complete ban on DWT and yet has the second worst record of any state for DWT, with 35% admitting to DWT.

Our survey covered nearly 5,000 people and we have a mountain of data we’re just now starting to pore over, and we hope to find other correlations that can predict higher or lower rates of DWT (for example, if a state has a younger population base does that influence the rate of DWT, etc.). However, one early area we are looking at is this: Does awareness of the issue reduce DWT? In this regard California provides an illustrative example.

In our survey this year, California increased its relative ranking in the survey compared to last year. In our survey last year California ranked 40th out of the 48 contiguous states with 34% of respondents admitting to DWT (in the survey 48th place is the state that had the most DWT). This year California improved its relative ranking in the survey to 19th position out of 48, and the number of people who DWT decreased by 9% to 25%. During the last year California also passed a ban on DWT—but more importantly it was a very well publicized law that got a lot of media attention.

In fact, our survey found that Californians have the highest awareness in the nation about their state laws on DWT. One of our survey questions was: “Do you live in a state with a driving while texting ban/law?” Nationwide, nearly 36% of respondents answered “I don’t know” to this question. However, in California only 5% answered “I don’t know,” meaning 95% know they have a law. The table below summarizes these findings for California and compares them to Tennessee, which is the worst state in the lower 48:

However, the other sad fact this table brings to light is that even though 95% of Californians are aware of the law, 25% still DWT—telling us awareness and laws alone are not enough. Certainly, common sense dictates that people shouldn’t be doing anything distracting while driving a car—whether that’s eating, putting on makeup, typing text messages, etc. etc. On the other hand, until we can change human behavior we are going to have to use technology where we can to make driving safer.

I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to talk on the cell phone or text on the cell phone while driving—but if they are going to do either of these I’ll feel a lot safer if they’re using a hands-free headset and keeping their eyes on the road.

Dave Grannan, President & CEO, Vlingo