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Atlanta - More than half of high school seniors admit they text or email while driving - the first federal statistics on how common the dangerous habit is in teens.
An anonymous national survey conducted last year found that 58 percent of high school seniors said they had texted or emailed while driving during the previous month. About 43 percent of high school juniors acknowledged they did the same thing.
"I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised at all," said Vicki Rimasse, a New Jersey woman whose son caused a fender bender earlier this year after texting in traffic. She made him take a safe-driving class after the mishap.
"I felt like an idiot," said her 18-year-old son, Dylan Young. "It caused me to be a lot more cautious," said the high school senior, although he conceded that he still texts behind the wheel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the survey results Thursday. Some earlier studies had suggested teen texting while driving was common though perhaps not quite so high.
Still, the numbers aren't really surprising, said Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center in Washington. She studies how teens use technology.
A typical teen sends and receives about 100 text messages a day, and it's the most common way many kids communicate with their peers. Even during short car rides it's not uncommon for messages to be coming in and for teens to respond, she said.
"A lot of teens say 'Well, if the car's not moving and I'm at a stoplight or I'm stuck in traffic, that's OK,' " said Lenhart, who has done focus groups with teens on the topic.
Other teens acknowledge they know it's not safe, but think it is safer if they hold the phone up so they can see the road and text at the same time, she said.
The CDC survey didn't ask whether high school students' texting was done while the vehicle was moving or stopped. The survey is conducted every two years, but this was the first time it asked about texting while driving.