Kids and cars always have been a dynamic combination: perpetual freedom-seekers busting around in freedom-bestowing machines.

With such volatility on the fast-moving street, stuff can happen. Just ask any insurance broker.

The latest trend in the saga of teens behind the wheel is texting while driving - that is, kids sending and receiving text messages via cell phone while they're rolling down the road, radios blasting.

No one has done a study on how often driving teens text, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association and other driving organizations.

But anecdotal analysis by people who know gives the average driver just one more thing to worry about out there.

"I can tell you it's happening and it's incredibly dangerous," says Scott Shamp, professor of telecommunications at the University of Georgia and an expert on texting. "I caught my own 19-year-old son texting while driving."

Throughout the country, there have been a handful of traffic deaths connected to texting, according to various news reports. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has no statistics on texting-caused accidents.

Texting has become a main form of communication among teenagers, Shamp says. They're physically dextrous and some are able to type out messages without looking at the phone keypad, he adds. Kids are used to getting and sending text messages in school, beyond teachers' notice.

Compelling as a whisper and not as commonly practiced by adults, texting is very much seen as a young person's mode of interaction.

"So," Shamp concludes, "asking students to be without one of their primary forms of communication while en route in cars is asking too much of them."

Maybe, but shouldn't someone at least be telling them that it's not the safest way to conduct a life?

"I try to tell them not to do it," says Frank Cantor, of Cantor's Driving School in Plymouth Meeting. "Some kids actually try to text while I'm giving them a lesson. It's crazy.

"Everybody is doing it, but Main Line kids seem to be doing it more. It seems they have more to say."

Indeed. Recently, at a Main Line kids' hangout (a Così restaurant in Bryn Mawr), a bunch of salad-eating 17-year-olds proved Cantor's point.

"I want people to know what I'm thinking," says Colleen Breslin, sitting with a clutch of friends from the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Bryn Mawr.

"We're just a fast-paced generation. I can eat a McDonald's meal in 30 seconds. I text while I drive to make plans with friends, or to tell my friends about someone I met the night before, or to occupy my mind if nothing good is on the radio.

"I can't help but respond right away if I get a text. I don't like waiting. The world today is going fast."

Generally, Colleen can type her message with one hand while holding the wheel with the other. She can read messages by holding up the phone so she can also view traffic.

It's not like the kids don't see potential danger.

"I know it's bad," says Colleen's classmate, Fiona Shovlin. "I try not to do it while driving, 'cause I'm not skilled to do it without looking, like Colleen."

Well, that's good, at least. And Fiona's friend Emily Greenwald makes a person feel almost safe when she explains that she sends messages only at red lights. But, she adds, "Yes, I will read while I'm driving. My mom says not to. But it's so tempting."

While several states (like New Jersey) ban aspects of cell-phone use for teenagers and adults, none specifically mentions texting while driving, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. A proposed law in Virginia would preclude drivers ages 15, 16 and 17 from talking, texting, or taking photos on state roads.

Logically, though, it would seem that a ban of cell phones would preclude texting, notes Russ Rader, an executive with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"Using cell phones while driving increases the risk of a serious crash four-fold," he says. "And it doesn't matter whether you're using a handheld or hands-free device. It's the conversation that's the distraction."

Any time a driver diverts attention from the road, he or she is risking an accident. "And texting takes attention from driving," Rader says, adding that even if there's no specific law against texting and driving, a person who causes an accident while doing it can be charged with a serious offense.

As ubiquitous as texting while driving is, at least a few adolescents may be getting the message that it's unsafe.

Recently, a study by Liberty Mutual insurance on teen driving inadvertently uncovered the fact that 37 percent of teenage drivers said texting while driving is "distracting."

That's encouraging. But talk to a teenager, and you get worried all over again.

Maddie Kelly, 18, of Newtown Square, says her mother forbids her to use the cell phone at all while she drives.

But Maddie will continue to text while driving. It's a kind of rebellion. "My mom will try to text, but she doesn't know how," she says, smiling. "But I do."

Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or