Texting while driving is common among teens, new CDC report finds

High school students admit they regularly text while driving, according to a new national survey that found one in three teens said they had texted or e-mailed while driving a car.

The findings released Thursday come a day after Massachusetts made headlines for the conviction of a Haverhill teenager for causing a fatal crash while texting—the first such verdict in the state.

Aaron Deveau, 18, was sentenced to a year in prison on Wednesday for the Feb. 2011 accident that killed 56-year-old Donald Bowley of New Hampshire.

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The new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed more than 15,000 high school students nationwide and found that 33 percent admitted that they had texted or e-mailed while driving.

Roughly 44 states, including Massachusetts, have passed laws in the past couple of years that outlaw texting while driving for beginning teens, according to the CDC.

Ruth Shults, who works in the CDC’s division of unintentional injury prevention, said in a teleconference with reporters that it’s too soon to way whether those laws have had a measurable impact.

“There is no current evidence that those laws have reduced crashes,” Shults said.

The CDC survey found some encouraging news related to teens and driving over the past two decades—even though motor vehicle crashes account for more than one in three US teen deaths each year.

It found:

-- From 1991 to 2011, the percentage of high school students who never or rarely wore a seat belt declined from 26 to 8.

-- From 1991 to 2011, the percentage of students who rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol declined from 40 to 24.

-- The percentage of high school students who had driven a car when they had been drinking alcohol decreased from 17 in 1997 to 8 in 2011.

“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,” Howell Wechsler, director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said in a statement.

“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.”