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CDC Reports Sharp Decline in Teen Drinking and Driving

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A new analysis shows that high school students are drinking and driving far less than they did 20 years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that among high school students 16 and older, drinking and driving dropped 54 percent from 1991 to 2011, from 22.3 percent of students reporting they drank and drove in 1991 to 10.3 percent in 2011.

Across the country, drinking and driving among teenagers varied, from 4.6 percent in Utah to 14.5 percent in North Dakota. The highest rates in general were found in the upper Midwest and along the Gulf Coast. The CDC came to these conclusions by analyzing data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys.

Why the drop? It's hard to say, but graduate driving license systems that restrict teenagers from full driving privileges for several years may have contributed, the CDC said, as may have rising gas prices and economic downturn, which could have cut the miles teens are driving, especially in the last few years.

Although the decline is cause to celebrate, the CDC said one in 10 students drinking and driving is significant, and most students who drove after drinking also binge drank. Nearly a million high school students drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011, and teen drivers are 3 times more likely than more experienced drivers to be in a fatal crash. Car accidents remain the leading cause of death for people ages 16 to 19.

"The findings point to the need to further reduce teen access to alcohol and reduce opportunities to drink and drive," the CDC said. And while drinking and driving may be on the decline, there's a new driving hazard for teens: texting.

The CDC has a guide for parents about how to talk to teens about drinking and driving.

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