While American teens appear to be doing less of a number of risky behaviors, such as smoking and drinking, a new government report suggests that they texting while driving in large numbers, which can pose a serious risk for themselves and others on the road.
According to the latest National Youth Risk Behavior Survey issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on June 12, more than four out of every 10 teens sent text messaging or emailed while driving within the month before being surveyed.
The agency uses the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) to monitor six health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth. The CDC began publishing the survey in 1991.
The 2013 report surveyed 13,000 high school students and revealed more than 41 percent of teens texted or emailed while driving in the month before the survey.
The report offered figures on texting while driving for 37 states, with figures ranging from 61% in South Dakota to 37% in Massachusetts. No comparison figures were offered, since the question was changed from the 2011 CDC survey.
Other studies have highlighted the risks associated with distracted driving, especially among first time teen drivers. In a study published in January in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers concluded texting or dialing a phone number while driving is more likely to cause a car accident for teen drivers between the ages of 15 and 20, than adult drivers.
Researchers also determined in a study published last year in the medical journal Pediatrics that teens who text while driving are more likely than their peers to engage in even riskier driving behavior, like drinking or not wearing a seatbelt.
Most Other Teen Risky Behavior Down
While the survey found that drug use has increased since 1991 by 15%, with more than 23% of kids admitted to using marijuana, the number of teens drinking alcohol and smoking have dropped.
Teen cigarette use was down to 16% and at the lowest level seen since the survey began. Despite the decrease, nearly 3 million teens are cigarette smokers. The survey did not question teens about e-cigarette use.
Overall alcohol consumption was down, but just slightly, with 35% admitting to drinking, compared to 39% in 2011.
Thirty-four percent of teens surveyed admitted having sex in the previous three months, an amount which held steady from 2011. Condom use was unchanged at 60% of youth surveyed.
Teens who admitted to attempting suicide in the previous year held steady from the previous study at eight percent.
Youth violence has decreased by nearly half in the past 20 years. The survey revealed a dramatic drop in the number of teens who reported being in a fight in the past year. Rates were down to 25% from 33% in the previous reporting period.
Researchers also found teens are spending significant time on smartphones, computers and video games; more than three hours per day.
The number of teens who had more than three hours of screen time on an average school day increased from 31% in 2011 to 41 % in the recent survey. Experts are especially concerned about this change, citing the effect it may have on schoolwork and other healthier activities.
Researchers recommend children spend no more than two hours per day on any electronic devices. They warn increased media usage, which includes social media interaction, may cause an extended adolescence.
Another area measured included soda consumption. The number of teens who drank soda everyday dropped to 27%, down from 34% in 2011.