An alarming proportion of Ontario teens report that they have texted while behind the wheel of a vehicle, says a survey of Grade 7 to 12 students in the province conducted for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
The 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey found that more than one-third of licensed Ontario students in Grades 10 to 12 – or an estimated 108,000 teens – reported having texted while driving at least once in the past year.
For Grade 12 students alone, 46 per cent of those who drive say they also texted at least once while operating a vehicle.
"This was a big surprise to us," said Robert Mann, a senior scientist at CAMH in Toronto. "We know that this is a very hazardous behaviour and some of the reports in the literature suggest that texting while you're driving can increase your chances of being involved in a collision by about 20 times or more. I think that texting is considered to be considerably hazardous because you have to actually type on the keyboard while you're driving."
Such distracted driving is illegal across Canada, yet many adult and teen drivers continue to communicate by keyboard while in the driver's seat.
Yet the student surveys have found that the percentage of students who reported drinking and driving has declined dramatically over the past 20 years, he said.
"So by way of contrast, it's a bit of a shock to see that so many of them are taking this risk [of texting]."
While 65 per cent of students rated their physical health as excellent or very good – a "very positive" sign, says Mann – the survey did turn up certain risky behaviours that could threaten health, some of which appear to be on the rise.
The survey, which has been conducted every two years since 1977, asked for the first time about bicycle helmet use among students.
It found that 79 per cent of bicyclists in this age group report not always wearing a helmet, while 53 per cent said they rarely or never wear the protective head gear while cycling.
"So again to see that many are not wearing the helmets is a surprise," said Mann. "And we know that injuries while biking can be very serious – head injuries, fractures and deaths," he said.
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