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Texting now the leading cause of death in teen drivers

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16-year-old Courtney Struck uses her car a lot, and wherever she goes, so does her phone. 16-year-old Courtney Struck uses her car a lot, and wherever she goes, so does her phone.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Drinking and driving is no longer the biggest threat to teen drivers.

A new study conducted by New York's Cohen Children's Medical Center says more teens die from texting while driving than driving drunk. In fact, 9 percent more teens are killed while texting behind the wheel than from drunk driving.

While a nationwide statistic, it is an epidemic that is a part of a larger problem in North Carolina.

"Distracted driving encompasses a multitude of different things -- you have changing the radio, you have the CD players, you have the GPS," explained Jeff Gordon, with the N.C. Highway Patrol.

Gordon says texting is one of the biggest distractions, especially for young drivers.

"On average, a teen will text 790 text messages per month. So a lot of that unfortunately takes place behind the wheel," Gordon said.

Gordon explained that it is illegal for a driver under 18 years old with a provisional license to use a phone at all while driving, even with a hands-free device. But that restriction doesn't seem to bother many teens.

"When you're at a stoplight or a stop sign, you can just take a quick peek at it," 16-year-old Courtney Struck pointed out.

Tyler Obman admits, "We're pretty stupid on cell phones. I look in the car next to me, and they're just texting, and they're about to run off the road."

Courtney's mother, Jennifer, says the temptation is real because they always have a phone on them. Courtney uses her car a lot, and wherever she goes, so does her phone.

"Her phone is going off right now -- 10 times as we're doing this interview -- and she wants to look down at it right now, but she's not going to because you're right here," Jennifer Struck said. "But if she's behind the wheel, it doesn't take a second to look down."

Authorities say parents leading by example is a good way to prevent their teens from texting while driving.

"All of us at one point or another have probably texted behind the wheel. But I don't do it with my kids in the car," Jennifer Struck said.

"For other distractions, at the end of the day it's up to the teen."

Fortunately for parents, a number of apps are offered for smartphones that will block texting while driving through measuring your speed with the phone's GPS.

Other apps involve a small sensor that is attached to a part of your car and disabled the phone once the module is triggered.

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Sean Maroney

Sean anchors WNCN News at 6, 7 & 11 PM. Raised in North Carolina, he returns home after nearly a decade reporting around the world. Each night, he brings his love of this community and powerful journalism into our newsroom and your home.

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