Teens who text and drive more likely to take other risks

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May 15th, 2013

High school students who acknowledge texting while driving are more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as riding with a driver who has been drinking alcohol; not wearing a seat belt; or drinking and driving themselves, according to a new study.

“This suggests there is a subgroup of students who may place themselves, their passengers and others on the road at elevated risk for a crash-related injury or fatality by engaging in multiple risky MV (motor vehicle) behaviors,” wrote the authors of the study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The study

Researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which asked high school students whether they had texted while driving in the 30 days previous. Nearly half of the 8,505 students aged 16 or older who answered that question reported doing so. The survey also queried participants on behaviors such as wearing a seat belt or riding in a car with a driver who had been drinking.

The results

Students who engaged in texting while driving (TWD) regularly were more likely to wear seatbelts irregularly; ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol; and drive when they had also been drinking alcohol, according to the study.

“For example, students who engaged in TWD on 10 to 19 days, 20 to 29 days, or all 30 days were more likely than students who engaged in TWD on 1 to 2 days to ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol and drive when drinking alcohol,” study authors wrote.

Students who said they had texted while driving on all 30 days were more than 40% more likely to not always wear a seat belt as a passenger than students who said they had texted while driving on 1 to 2 days.

Separate research suggests that teenagers know such behaviors are unsafe, but “teenagers who engage in these behaviors may tend to view them as being less of a safety risk than teenagers who do not engage in them,” according to the study.

The limitations

The findings have several limitations, the study noted. Survey questions did not distinguish between sending, receiving or reading texts, “which may be perceived as having different levels of risk.”

In addition, the question regarding riding with a driver who has been drinking did not distinguish between parents or peer drivers: “Students may perceive they had no choice whether to ride with a parent who had been drinking alcohol.”

Lastly, the data is self-reported, and the “extent of underreporting or over reporting of TWD on this survey cannot be determined.”

The takeaway

Strategies to reduce texting while driving and other risky behaviors may include state laws and advances in technology, according to the study. However, “parental supervision of their teenage drivers may be the  most effective prevention strategy,” the study said.

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Filed under: Adolescent Health • Living Well

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