Survey: Drivers distracting themselves

Texting, talking on phones common for most ages

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WASHINGTON — Let's start with the good news: Only 1 percent of drivers older than 75 say they text while behind the wheel. Now the bad: It gets a whole lot worse from there.

More than 40 percent of people between 19 and 39 years old say they text while they drive, and 10 percent of them say they do it regularly. More than half of those in a new survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety say they talk on their cellphones while driving.

"Using your phone while driving may seem safe, but it roughly quadruples your risk of being in a crash, according to previous research," said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. "None of us is immune."

The number of roadway deaths linked to distracted driving in 2012 was 3,328, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 32 fewer than in 2011, when NHTSA said blamed distracted driving for 10 percent of all crashes and 387,000 injuries.

It has been estimated that 660,000 Americans are using electronic devices and driving at any daylight moment, and most people say they recognize the risk posed by distracted driving. In many surveys, drivers say they use their phones safely but wish others wouldn't.

The AAA foundation survey builds on the group's earlier work, a comprehensive study by researchers at the University of Utah that found the more complicated and absorbing a task — such as text messaging or a phone conversation — the greater the distraction. And the longer a task takes, the more absorbing it becomes.

The study described "inattention blindness": A driver might see something that should trigger caution, but the realization doesn't register in time for a reaction.

The study also found that voice-activated devices, with which drivers listen to or send text messages without touching their mobile device, increase distraction.

When compared with other diversions in the car, "interacting with the speech-to-text system was the most cognitively distracting," the report said.

Concern, studies and new laws about distracted driving have ballooned since then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood embraced the issue almost five years ago, but the new survey of 2,325 drivers suggests that hasn't reduced the use of mobile devices.

Overall, the survey found that 26 percent of drivers said they text and 6 percent said they did so frequently. Sixty-seven percent said they talk on their phones while driving, 28 percent of them regularly.

Surprisingly, given that they may be the most tech-savvy, the youngest drivers said they text and talk less often than do older drivers. The 16- to 18-year-old group talked less on their phones while behind the wheel than any group younger than 60 and were less likely to text than drivers between ages 19 and 39.