The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a report that indicates teenage drivers are taking fewer risks, but texting and emailing behind the wheel continues to be a leading problem.
CDC's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey was conducted between September 2010 and December 2011 and surveyed students in grades nine through 12 from 21 large urban school districts in 43 states. It found that 33 percent of teens had texted or emailed while driving a car within the past 30 days of being surveyed. That figure mirrors that of one in three teen deaths a year occuring as a result of motor vehicle crashes.
Last year was the first that the survey asked teens specifically about their use of electronic media while behind the wheel.
The survey did uncover some positive trends. From 1991 to 2011, the percentage of high school students who never or rarely wore a seat belt declined from 26 percent to 8 percent, a 69 percent decrease. During the same time period, the number of students who rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol during the past 30 days fell by 40 percent, and the number of teens who admitted to drinking and driving fell to 8 percent last year from the previous figure of 17 percent in 1997.“We are encouraged that more of today’s high school students are choosing healthier, safer behaviors, such as wearing seat belts, and are avoiding behaviors that we know can cause them harm, such as binge drinking or riding with impaired drivers,” said Howell Wechsler, Ed.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health. “However, these findings also show that despite improvements, there is a continued need for government agencies, community organizations, schools, parents, and other community members to work together to address the range of risk behaviors prevalent among our youth.”
The survey also gauged other health and risk topics that included unintentional injuries and violence; tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity. These surveys also monitor obesity and asthma.
For example, 20 percent of teens said they had been bullied on school property. The survey also indicated that cigarette use did not change significantly between 2009 (19 percent) and 2011 (18 percent). But the overall use of marijuana dropped from 27 percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2011.
CDC’s survey is the only one of its kind designed to monitor a wide range of priority health risk behaviors among representative samples of high school students at the national, state, and local levels. They are conducted every two years.