Seventy percent of unintentional injury-related fatalities--the leading cause of death among youth in the United States--are motor vehicle traffic related. Examining traffic-related safety, therefore, is crucial to public health. This study examines trends in traffic safety issues among US high school students: helmet use while riding a bicycle, seat belt use as a passenger, driving when drinking alcohol, and riding in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
Data from the 1991-2007 national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) were analyzed. The YRBS is a self-administered, anonymous survey that uses a national probability sample of US students in public and private schools in grades 9-12. Demographic subgroup differences were determined for 2007 data using t tests. Temporal changes were analyzed using logistic regression analyses.
From 1991 to 2007, the percentage of high school students who rarely or never wore bicycle helmets decreased from 96.2% to 85.1%; decreases were also seen in the percentage who never wore a seat belt (from 25.9% to 11.1%), rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol (39.9-29.1%), and who drove when drinking alcohol (16.7-10.5%).
Although the trends are encouraging, many students still put themselves at risk. Policy approaches (eg, state or local laws or ordinances) complemented by community and school programs may be the best approach to reducing transportation-related injuries and fatalities.