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Texting behind the wheel still common among teens, study finds

In previous blog posts we've discussed the dangers of distracted driving, particularly among younger drivers. A recent national survey confirmed that one bad habit, sending or reading text messages behind the wheel, is particularly common among older high school students, despite the high risk of car accidents.

Texting and driving is a practice U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls a national epidemic. In March of this year it became a primary offense to text and drive in Pennsylvania. Yet an annual survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 58 percent of high school seniors had texted or sent an email while driving in the past year. Another 43 percent of high school juniors admitted they had done it, too. The survey polled more than 15,000 public and private high school students across the country on a range of risky behaviors; this year was the first that teens were asked specifically about texting while driving.

Even a car accident can't stop some from kicking the habit. A woman whose son caused a fender bender while texting behind the wheel in slow-moving traffic said she made her son take a safe-driving class. He said it's made him a more cautious driver, but he admitted he still sometimes texts people while he's driving.

Considering teens' use of technology, the survey's findings aren't surprising. The average teenager sends and receives about 100 text messages per day; it's the most common form of communication among their peers. But with distracted driving attributed to about 16 percent of teen motor vehicle deaths, texting while driving can't be simply dismissed as a generational difference. The delayed reaction times, lane swerves and rear-end collisions distracted driving causes can affect motorists and passengers of all ages.

Some who make a habit of texting and driving say they have ways of doing it safely, such as texting only when they're stopped at red lights or holding the phone up high enough so the road is in their peripheral vision. But these measures won't prevent drivers from getting a ticket, and they certainly are no guarantee against an accident. The only way to truly prevent a distracted driving accident is to put the cellphone and all other distractions out of view and focus solely on the road in front of you.

Source: USA Today, "CDC: Older teens often text while behind the wheel," June 7, 2012

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