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SD study: Having sex while driving prevalent among students

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Cindy Struckman-Johnson watched last week's kerfuffle over the now-nixed "Don't Jerk and Drive" public safety ads and saw something in the offending double entendre that most people didn't: A distracted driving message.


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Cindy Struckman-Johnson watched last week’s kerfuffle over the now-nixed “Don’t Jerk and Drive” public safety ads and saw something in the offending double entendre that most people didn’t: A distracted driving message.

That’s because the University of South Dakota professor has researched just how prevalent sex while driving is.

“There are people getting killed out there because they’re having sex while driving, either with themselves or with another person,” Struckman-Johnson said. “If they’re getting killed, we have an obligation to understand it.”

A paper co-authored by Struckman-Johnson, recently published in the journal “Accident Analysis and Prevention,” found that 33 percent of men and 9 percent of women at USD have engaged in some sort of sexual activity while driving.

More than a third of those who did reported speeding, another third said they’d drifted from their lane and 11 percent said they’d let go of the steering wheel.


“It’s absolutely not safe,” Struckman-Johnson said. “What to do about it, I don’t know.”

Struckman-Johnson sent a copy of her paper to Argus Leader Media in Sioux Falls in response to a story about “Don’t Jerk And Drive.” Concerns over the sexual reference implied in the slogan led Public Safety Secretary Trevor Jones to pull the ads last week.

Jones said the sexual innuendo, which was intended to grab attention, was distracting from the real message about the danger of jerking the steering wheel on icy roads.

Actual sex while driving is more pervasive and dangerous than the public might realize, Struckman-Johnson wrote, although she hadn’t set out to learn that in 2011.

The impetus for the scientific study on sexual behavior among USD students was a survey on texting while driving she’d been working on with her husband David and a clinical psychology trainee named Samuel Gaster.

“At the end of the survey, we’d asked them ‘what other distractions are there,’” Struckman-Johnson said.

What the students said surprised the research team: 40 percent of the students cited sex while driving as a distraction.

“The sheer frequency was very surprising,” Gaster said.


When the team looked into the topic, Gaster said, they realized that “it’s not something that had been investigated before.”

Gaster and the Struckman-Johnsons then devised a separate survey on sex while driving, which involved USD students volunteering to take a 103-question survey on the topic.

They got 721 responses: 195 men and 511 women. Of those, 64 men and 47 women reported engaging in some manner of sex while driving, including masturbation, oral or vaginal sex or genital touching. Men were more likely to participate as drivers, women as passengers.

Oral sex was the most common activity, followed by genital touching, masturbation and vaginal sex.

Also of note, Gaster said, was where the sex took place: More than half the time, it was on a two-lane or four-lane highway, and nearly half of the time at speeds of 61-80 mph.

“These are risky situations,” Gaster said.

None of the students surveyed said they’d been in an accident, but two reported nearly hitting another vehicle or pedestrian. Nationwide, the survey noted, news stories on people killed or injured in accidents after having sex with another person often are reported “as a joke,” Struckman-Johnson said.

The rural nature of the South Dakota and the long drives associated with trips home for some students played a role in the behavior, the professor suggested.


“One of the students wrote ‘it’s a five or six hour drive home,” she said. “What am I supposed to do?”

The paper was presented in Florida in November of 2012 and reviewed by the highway safety journal for more than a year before being published in April of this year.

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