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Teens Commonly Text While Driving, New Study Warns

About 40 percent of teenage drivers in the United States admit that they text while driving, according to a new survey, which highlights that the problem appears to be worse in states that allow learner permits at younger ages. 

In a study published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health (JAH) on August 20, researchers note a prevalence of texting or emailing while driving among U.S. high school students, although the findings varied significantly from state-to-state. It also found higher rates of texting while driving among older white teen drivers.

Researchers surveyed 101,397 teen drivers aged 14 and older in 35 states, to determine the frequency in which they texted or emailed while driving, and to explore individual and state specific factors that could be attributed to the risky behaviors.

The findings indicate there are a wide range of differences in self-reported texting while driving among teens, depending on where they lived. Results of the survey ranged from a 26 percent self-reporting rate in Maryland to 64 percent in South Dakota.

Survey data also found more than 50 percent of teens 15 years of age or younger with learners permits reporting texting or emailing while driving within the past 30 days.

Overall, researchers found that states with lower learner’s permit ages had correspondingly higher rates of texting while driving reports, with white teens being the most likely to engage in the risky behavior when compared to other races and ethnicities.

Despite 34 or the 35 states having laws that prohibit text messaging by drivers under the age of 21, rates of texting while driving doubled between the 15 and 16 year old range, and continued to rise significantly.

Researchers also found those who engaged in texting while driving were among those most likely to engage in riskier and illegal behaviors. Individuals reporting they did not wear seatbelts on a regular basis were 21 percent more likely to text while driving, and those who admitted to drinking and driving were nearly two times more likely to text and drive, when compared to those who did not drink and drive.

Motor vehicle accidents have become the leading cause of death for teens between the age of 15 and 18 years in the United States, ahead of all other types of injury, disease or violence. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 99,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 years are injured every year in car crashes, while nearly 2,000 young drivers are involved in fatal vehicle collisions.

NHTSA reports an estimated 95% of all roadway crashes are caused by human error. The majority are the result of a distraction shortly before the collision. A 10% increase in automobile related fatalities from 2014 to 2015 was likely linked to an increase in distracted driving, NHTSA investigators speculate.

Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, has become such as widespread epidemic across the United States that the NHTSA launches a National Teen Driver Safety Week campaign annually to encourage parents and guardians to have conversation with their teenage children about he dangers associated with distracted driving. The campaign stresses the importance about distracted driving risk factors such as cell phone use and extra passengers that can take away the attention of a new driver who is already at a statistically higher rate of a crash.

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