Many teens text behind the wheel, CDC survey shows

Dylan Young, 18, poses for The Associated Press as a vehicle cruises by, Wednesday, June 6, 2012, in North Arlington, N.J. Young, a senior at North Arlington High, was in a fender-bender accident caused by being distracted while texting and driving. More than half of high school seniors say they text or email while driving, according to a jarring new study that offers the first federal statistics on how common the dangerous habit is in teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the numbers Thursday, June 7, 2012. They come from a 2011 survey of about 15,000 high school students across the country. The study found 58 percent of high school seniors said that, in the previous month, they had texted or emailed while driving.



ATLANTA — More than half of high school seniors admitted in a government survey that they’ve texted while driving.

It’s the first time the question was asked in a teen poll on risky behavior.

In the survey, about 58 percent of high school seniors said they had texted or e-mailed while driving during the previous month. About 43 percent of high school juniors acknowledged they did the same thing.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said Vicki Rimasse, a New Jersey woman whose son caused a fender-bender earlier this year after texting in traffic. She made him take a safe-driving class afterward.

“I felt like an idiot,” said her 18-year-old son, Dylan Young. The episode taught him “to be a lot more cautious,” though he conceded that he sometimes still texts behind the wheel.

The findings released Thursday are the first federal statistics on how common the dangerous habit is in teens. Distracted driving deaths are most common in teens, blamed for about 16 percent of teen motor vehicle deaths.

Focusing on a cellphone instead of the road leads to delayed reaction times, lane swerves and other lapses with sometimes fatal consequences, experts say.

Thirty-nine states ban texting for all age groups, and five more outlaw it for novice teen drivers. Authorities are increasingly cracking down. In the past two weeks, teens in Missouri and Massachusetts have been sentenced to jail – one for a year – for fatal accidents involving texting.

For the survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year questioned more than 15,000 public and private high school students across the country.

The numbers aren’t really surprising, said Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center in Washington who studies how teens use technology. A typical teen sends and receives about 100 text messages a day, and it’s the most common way many children communicate with their peers.

“A lot of teens say ‘Well, if the car’s not moving and I’m at a stoplight or I’m stuck in traffic, that’s OK,’ ” said Lenhart, who has done focus groups with teens.

Other teens think it is safer if they hold the phone up so they can see the road and text at the same time, she said.

The CDC survey didn’t ask whether the texting or e-mailing was done while the vehicle was moving or stopped. The survey is conducted every two years.

CDC officials said there was some good news in the survey:

• More teens are wearing seatbelts. Only 8 percent said they rarely or never wear seatbelts, down from 26 percent in 1991.

• Fewer teens said they drove drunk (8 percent vs. double that in the 1990s) or rode with a driver who had been drinking (24 percent, down from 40 percent).

Overall, teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes are down 44 percent in the last decade. About 3,100 teens died from traffic crashes in 2009, according to the most recent federal statistics.


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday announced pilot projects in Delaware and California to discourage distracted driving.

LaHood said the Obama administration will pay $2.4 million for crackdown programs in the two states to see whether the results replicate those produced by a pair of federally funded programs last year.

Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y., officials said distracted driving in general and text messaging in particular dropped greatly during the highly publicized campaigns.

Texting and cellphone use behind the wheel are “a national epidemic,” LaHood said.

– From wire reports