By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, June 7 (HealthDay News) -- Although more teen drivers are buckling up and not driving drunk than in years past, another danger -- texting -- is posing a new threat, U.S. government research shows.
One in three high school students said they had texted or emailed while driving during the past month, says a research team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Texting or emailing while driving can have deadly consequences that are entirely preventable," Howell Wechsler, director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, said during a noon press conference Thursday. "So while we are pleased to see changes in many behaviors related to motor vehicle crashes, we are alarmed by some of the new findings, especially those involving distracted driving."
There was some very good news from the new report: Over the past 20 years there have been marked improvements among teens in terms of wearing seatbelts, not riding with drunk drivers and not driving drunk, Wechsler's team found.
"The most notable finding in this report is the significant reduction in risk behaviors related to motor vehicle crashes, which are the leading cause of death among youth in the United States," Wechsler said. "They account for more than one in three teen deaths every year."
From 1991 to 2011, the time span covered by the report, the number of high school students who said they "never or rarely" wore a seat belt dropped from 26 percent to only 8 percent.
Over the same period, the number of students who said they had recently ridden with a driver who had been drinking dropped from 40 percent to 24 percent. The number of teens who said they had been drinking while driving fell from 17 percent in 1997 to 8 percent in 2011, the report notes.
"These trends show that we are making great progress in helping our nation's youth make positive health choices," Wechsler said. "Over the past decade there has been a 44 percent drop in motor vehicle crash deaths in teens aged 13 to 19 years old."
But new distracting, potentially dangerous behaviors such as texting have also emerged. "For the first time, the report offers national data showing that the use of technology [such as cellphones] among youth is resulting in new risks," Wechsler said.
In addition, the report found that one in six teens had been bullied through email, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites or texting in the past year.
Other highlights of the report include:
- In 2009, 19 percent of teens smoked; in 2011 it was 18 percent.
- Marijuana use rose from 21 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2011.
- More high school students smoke marijuana now than smoke cigarettes.
The data were collected by interviewing more than 15,000 high school students from around the nation. For the first time, data were collected using both landline phones and cellphones.
To see the full report, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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