By Anna Edney
WASHINGTON – About seven of 10 Americans talk on their mobile phones while behind the wheel, a dangerous distraction that is more common in the U.S. than in Europe, health officials said.
A survey showed 69 percent of Americans had used their phones while driving in the previous 30 days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of drivers in seven European countries who did the same ranged from 59 percent in Portugal to 21 percent in the U.K, the CDC said today. The study also found 31 percent of U.S. drivers read or sent text messages of e-mails while on the road.
Phone use while driving can be deadly. In the U.S., 3.5 million people suffer serious injuries in car crashes each year and an estimated 24 percent of those accidents involve phones, according to the National Safety Council, an injury prevention nonprofit group based in Itasca, Ill. The U.S. has the same number or fewer mobile phones per 100 people as the other countries in the survey, according to The World Bank.
“The cell phone can be a fatal distraction for those who use it while they drive,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. “Driving and dialing or texting don’t mix.”
Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain were the other countries included in the survey.
No. 2 Portugal
Portugal came closest to the U.S. in talking on the phone while driving and texting behind the wheel. About 59 percent of Portuguese drivers talked on their mobile phone at least once in 30 days and 31 percent texted or sent e-mail messages while driving, according to the report.
The data was collected in two different surveys in 2011. No significant difference existed between men and women in terms of mobile phone use while driving though younger drivers used their phones more often than older ones, according to the report.
In the U.S., there were 106 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people in 2011 compared to 131 subscriptions per 100 people in the U.K., according to The World Bank. Only France had fewer than the U.S. at 105 subscriptions per 100 people.
While mobile phone use doesn’t vary widely in the U.S. or European countries, differences in mobile phone laws might not explain the variation in use while driving either, the CDC report said.
“While U.S. states differ in their cell phone use laws, nearly all European countries have hand-held bans in place, yet there is still a large variation in European estimates,” the report said.