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November 16, 2013

Risk survey shows N.H. teen drivers taking chances

Youth Risk Behavior Survey results are out -- and disappointing

Drinking, texting and unbuckled — those are some of the alarming findings about teenage drivers contained in New Hampshire’s new survey of risky behavior among youths.

Department of Education officials released 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data last week. The results are culled from 1,634 responses from 71 randomly selected schools, but the department said they can be generalized to all students.

The survey, conducted last spring, asked high school students about a variety of behavior ranging from alcohol, drug and tobacco use to diet, physical activity and sex.

For the first time, the survey asked about texting and driving.

About half the respondents — 47.7 percent — admitted to texting or emailing while driving.

That number was dramatically higher among high school seniors — 68.6 percent.

Young women did it more often than young men, 49.4 percent to 46.2 percent.

Teenagers also confessed to drinking while driving, 8.4 percent said they had done so.

The number was higher among seniors, 11.8 percent. There was no difference among genders.

Another question looked at seat belt use and found 9.7 percent of students said they never or rarely wore one while riding with someone else.

Educators, counselors and safety officials all agree the numbers are a concern.

“It’s alarming,” Londonderry High School guidance director Mike Dolphin said.

“We are equally blown away,” Sanborn Regional High School principal Brian Stack said.

“This really puts those young drivers in greater danger than they realize,” New Hampshire State Police Lt. Matt Shapiro said.

Highway Safety Agency coordinator Peter Thomson characterized the number of students acknowledging they had driven while drinking as terrible.

“Seniors get a little macho and want to party,” Thomson said. “Even 11.8 percent is way too much.”

Dolphin expressed frustration that despite at least a generation of efforts to keep students from drinking and driving, some remain intent on doing so.

“The 8 percent, that’s very surprising given all the education that’s gone on for 30 years,” he said.

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