Epidemiology PhD student's study finds 2 in 5 teens texting while driving despite state bans

The study, conducted in part by Li Li, MS, a doctoral student of epidemiology at the College of Public Health, was published in Journal of Adolescent Health and won the Best Student Paper Award for the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting..


  • Nationwide Children's Hospital
August 20, 2018

Li Li, MS, a doctoral student of epidemiology at the Ohio State University College of Public Health, is the first author of an article examining individual- and state-level factors associated with teens texting while driving. The study, done in conjunction with researchers from The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at Youth Risk Behavior Survey data from 35 states.

The study, published today in Journal of Adolescent Health, found that nearly two in five teen drivers aged 14 years and older had texted while driving at least once in the month prior to the survey, despite the fact that 34 of 35 states in the study ban text messaging for drivers 21 years and younger. The percentage of teens texting while driving varied across the 35 states, ranging from 26 percent in Maryland to 64 percent in South Dakota.

“Cellphone use while driving is a public health epidemic. I hope my findings would inspire attention and action from the public and the policy makers, to reduce risky driving behaviors and traffic injuries by young drivers,” Li said.

Li received guidance from her adviser, Motao Zhu, MD, MS, PhD, principle investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and associate professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and affiliate faculty at the College of Public Health. Dr. Zhu has expertise in injury epidemiology including teen driving safety.

Under Dr. Zhu’s mentorship, Li has been actively involved in several National Institutes of Health (NIH) and CDC-funded research projects, such as using a cellphone app to reduce cellphone-related distraction among young drivers, cellphone law evaluation, driver’s licensing law evaluation, and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey of high school students.

Li presented her research during the 2017 the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting, and won the Best Student Paper from the Injury Control and Emergency Health Services (ICEHS) Section. This annual competitive award received 11 papers, and Li was the winner. Li also won the ICEHS Presidents’ Road Safety Scholarship in 2017, and was named as a Traffic Safety Scholar by Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities in 2018.

“I would like to thank my adviser, Dr. Motao Zhu, for mentoring and supporting me over the years.” Li said. “Without him, I would not be able to conduct high-caliber research, publish in high-impact journals, and win prestigious awards.”


About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College’s divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 23rd among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, and also includes the top 7-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes, Policy and Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Center for Public Health Practice, and the NCI-funded Center of Excellence in Regulatory Tobacco Science (CERTS).