Teen Drivers Exhibiting Better Behavior, Except In One Life-Threatening Area [Study]

American teens are exhibiting much better behaviors than they used to when it comes to grasping their independence. Less smoking, less drinking, less fighting. However, they’re still engaging in one behavior that could cost them their lives, according to a new study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) commissioned a behavioral study that examined several negative behaviors commonly associated with teenagers. And while, for the most part, the news was good, the area where it wasn’t is quite serious.


The Findings

Instances of drug use, weapons use and risky sex, have been plummeting since these surveys were first conducted in 1991. Teens are even wearing their seat belts and bicycle helmets more often.

“Overall, young people have more healthy behaviors than they did 20 years ago,” said Dr. Stephanie Zaza, the CDC’s overseer of the study, which enlisted the aid of 13,000 US high school students in the spring of 2013.

(Participation was voluntary and required parental permission, while the answers were kept anonymous.)

But the area where teens came up short was a killer: texting, or more specifically, texting while driving.

“Among teen drivers, 41 percent had texted or emailed behind the wheel in the previous month,” the study reported. The AP added: “That figure can’t be compared to the 2011 survey, though, because the CDC changed the question this time. The latest survey gives texting-while-driving figures for 37 states — ranging from 32 percent in Massachusetts to 61 percent in South Dakota.”

While it may be true that we can’t tell whether the number is going up or down, 41 percent is staggering for a behavior that is so lethal, and considering that in some areas, the number is almost two-thirds of all teens, it highlights a problem that borders on epidemic.

To get a clearer picture of just how serious this particular reveal is, we turn to a recent study by Cohen Children’s Medical Center, which named the practice as the leading cause of death for teens in the US.

That study also found the following:

  • More than 3,000 teens die each year in crashes caused by texting while driving
  • Approximately 2,700 teens are killed in drunk driving accidents
  • More than 50 percent of teens admit to texting while driving

More from the Cohen report: “In addition, Virginia Tech studies show drivers are 23 times more likely to be in an accident if they are texting while driving. And while surveys show distracted driving is becoming more socially unacceptable among teens, these young drivers continue to text while driving, especially when they are alone. Bridgestone Americas Inc. found that of 2,000 young drivers, 71 percent said reading and receiving texts and emails is unacceptable while driving — yet 45 percent admit to doing it.”

Of the 45 percent, Cohen notes that 95 percent read texts and emails when alone, while 32 percent did so when with friends or parents; more than 90 percent admitted to posting on social media sites while behind the wheel, but only 29 percent when with others; and 75 percent admitted to watching a video when alone – compared to 45 percent when with others.

The amount of reaction time lost with any glance downward at a phone is estimated to be around four to five seconds. If a teen looks down once while composing or reading a text message, that can be life-threatening. Now imagine how badly some of these other threats factor in: social media posts aren’t as user friendly as sending a text and may require two or more breaks in concentration; a 30- or 60-second video of the sort one might watch while driving could lead to 20 to 30 seconds where the teen’s eyes are not entirely focused on the road — more than enough time for disaster to strike.


In Summary

While it’s good that teens are starting to realize how risky drinking, smoking, and fighting can be to their overall health, they’re allowing distracted driving to become a silent killer. It’s important for parents to be aware of the issue and to realize this: if they’re doing it around you, they’re almost certainly doing it when they’re on their own. Educate them on the repercussions of such actions and hold them accountable if you discover they’re doing it. It might not make them your friend in the present, but it could save their lives in the future.

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