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US still drives and phones

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WASHINGTON - More than two-thirds of American motorists use a mobile phone while driving despite recent laws in many jurisdictions banning the practice, a survey showed Thursday. 

A police officer flags down a driver who was talking on his cell phone on September 21, 2010, in Washington, DC.

The study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 69 per cent of US drivers talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed.

Some 31 per cent of drivers also said that they had read or sent text messages or emails while driving.

The CDC study showed US drivers using their devices while driving more than in seven European countries which have full bans in place on mobile device use.

The US figure of 69 per cent phone use was higher than the other countries in the study: Portugal (59 per cent), the Netherlands (48 per cent), Belgium (46 per cent), Spain (41 per cent), France (40 per cent), Germany (39 per cent) and Britain (21 per cent).

Among those who reported using their phones "regularly" or "often," the US led with 28 per cent of motorists, followed by Portugal and the Netherlands (20 per cent), Belgium (16 per cent) Spain (13 per cent), France (10 per cent), Germany (9 per cent) and Britain (8 per cent), CDC data showed.

The data suggested high levels of "distracted driving" in the United States despite stepped-up law enforcement efforts and safe driver education.

The CDC noted that 33 states and the US capital Washington have laws in place restricting at least some teens or new drivers from using cell phones while driving. But only 10 states plus the capital have full bans on using handheld devices.

"The cell phone can be a fatal distraction for those who use it while they drive," said CDC director Tom Frieden.

"Driving and dialing or texting don't mix. If you are driving, pull over to a safe place and stop before you use your cell phone."

According to US government data, 3,331 people were killed in crashes in 2011 involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010.

The National Transportation Safety Board figures showed 18 per cent of injury crashes in 2010 involved a distracted driver.

US federal safety officials have recommended a strict ban on the use of cellphones - both hand-held and hands-free - while driving. But it remains up to the states to determine the proper use of in-car devices.

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