Among the European countries studied, Portugal came closest to the U.S. in the percentage of drivers who use cell phones while behind the wheel, with 59% of that country’s drivers surveyed saying they talked on their mobile phone at least once in 30 days. And 31% of the drivers in Portugal said they texted or sent email messages while driving, Edney writes. According to the CDC report, in 2011, only France had fewer people who owned cell phones (105 subscriptions per 100 people) than the U.S. did (106 subscriptions per 100 people).
Edney notes the dangers of cell phone use by drivers:
In the U.S., 3.5 million people suffer serious injuries in traffic crashes each year and an estimated 24 percent of those accidents involve mobile telephone use, according to the National Safety Council, an injury prevention nonprofit group based in Itasca, Illinois. 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.’
Of the seven European countries in the study — Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — the U.K. had the least distracted drivers, as P.J. Skerrett writes for the blog Harvard Health.
The CDC collected the data in two surveys in 2011. Skerrett writes that in 2011, the last year with complete statistics, 3,331 people were killed in car accidents involving a distracted driver, and nearly 400,000 were injured. “As you might expect, younger drivers were more likely to have reported talking on a cellphone or texting while driving,” he writes.
Although 33 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting the use of electronic devices by some teen drivers, such laws have not reduced distracted driving in that age group, which is the most prone to distraction, Skerrett writes.
The distraction for teens is partly cultural and partly developmental. Skerrett notes: “Many teens are still developing the ability to regulate their attention and their emotions, making it more difficult for them to ignore distractions.”
Skerrett writes that pediatricians and other physicians ought to ask their patients, especially teens, about distracted driving. Parents may be even more effective, he says. He suggests they model safe driving behavior and talk with their teen children about safety behind the wheel.
The CDC promotes auto safety with its “Parents Are the Key” campaign. He also recommends that parents and teens sign a pledge about safe driving, such as the CDC’s “Parent-Teen Driving Agreement” or “The Pledge” on the NHTSA’s site. Skerrett, who writes that his family recently “launched a new driver,” says one other strategy helps him as a parent: “prayer.”