Nearly 40 percent of teens text while driving, study finds

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The problem is more widespread in states that allow learner’s permits at a younger age

A new study led by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital finds that nearly two in five teen drivers (38 percent) text while driving.

Of the 35 states assessed in the study, South Dakota had the highest rate of teen texting and driving, with 64 percent of high school students admitting that they had engaged in the risky driving behavior at least once in the month prior to the survey.

At 58 percent, North Dakota had the second-highest rate of teen texting and driving. Montana came in at 55 percent, Wyoming at 52 percent, and Nebraska at 50 percent. Maryland had the lowest rate of teen texting and driving, at 26 percent.

Higher rates in states with lower driving age

Teens were more likely to text behind the wheel in states that had a lower minimum driving age. The rate was 20 percent in states with a permit at 14 to 15 years of age, 16 percent in those with 15 to 16 as the minimum age, and 13 percent in states where the driving age started at 16.

Age and ethnicity also appeared to have an impact on teen texting and driving rates. White teens were more likely to text and drive when compared to African American and Hispanic young people, at 19 percent, 12 percent, and 11 percent, respectively.

"The increase in texting while driving at the age when teens can legally begin unsupervised driving was not surprising," said lead author Dr. Motao Zhu in a statement. "Graduated driver licensing laws could have an impact on texting while driving behavior: the earlier teens start driving, the earlier they start texting while driving."

Less common with an adult

The researchers noted that texting while driving and other risky behaviors are much less common when there’s an adult in the car.

"The association between age and texting while driving highlights the need for parents to pay attention to their child's texting while driving throughout the teen years - not just when their children are learning to drive,” said study co-author Dr. Ruth Shults.

The study authors said the findings are concerning since distracted driving has been found to increase the risk of a crash up to nine times. Texting while driving can be an especially big distraction since it diverts a driver’s eyes, hands, and mind away from the task of driving.

And texting while driving isn’t just dangerous -- in 34 of the 35 states assessed, text messaging by drivers under the age of 21 is illegal.

The study has been published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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