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More U.S. drivers texting, chatting than Western Europeans: CDC

A driver uses his smart phone while in traffic in Encinitas, California December 10, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A driver uses his smart phone while in traffic in Encinitas, California December 10, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - More U.S. drivers chatted on the phone or used email and text messaging while behind the wheel in 2011 than did their counterparts in several Western European countries, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

The data showed 69 percent of Americans aged 18 to 64 reported they had talked on their cell phone while driving in the previous 30 days, more than in any European country surveyed. In Europe, rates ranged from 59 percent in Portugal to 21 percent in the United Kingdom.

Additionally, nearly a third of Americans reported they had read or sent text or email messages while operating a car, compared with 15 percent of drivers in Spain. Portuguese and American drivers were on par when it came to texting but full country-by-country data was not immediately available.

"Overall, drivers in the United States used their mobile phones to talk and text more than drivers surveyed in each of the other European countries," said Rebecca Naumann, a CDC researcher on the survey.

The newly released data, collected in 2011 from thousands of drivers, comes at a time of growing public concern over the effects of distracted driving, which has been linked to thousands of vehicular deaths and injuries in recent years and has led to counter efforts by lawmakers and parents.

"We need to make a commitment to putting our devices away while we are in the car," Naumann said.

The data came amid concerns over the impact of mobile phones and electronic devices on driving and road safety. Thirty-three U.S. states and the District of Columbia restrict at least some drivers from using their cell phones while driving, the CDC said.

Researchers said there was no significant difference in behavior along gender lines but that younger drivers were more likely to use their devices behind the wheel. Roughly half of U.S. drivers aged 18-24 reported reading and sending text or email messages, compared to nearly 10 percent of drivers aged 55 to 64.

Each day in the United States, more than nine people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in vehicle crashes reported to involve a driver distracted by using a mobile device or eating, among other behaviors, the CDC said.

In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared with 3,267 in 2010, government data showed.

The survey's margin of error varied for each of the questions because of varying sample sizes in the different countries. The question posed to Americans about the amount they talk on their cell phones, for example, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percent.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jim Marshall)

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