U.S. drivers are much more likely than Europeans to drive while distracted, federal health officials report Thursday.
Nearly 69 percent of Americans who drive say that they talked on their cell phones while driving at least once in the previous month, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That's a lot higher than what was reported by Europeans in another survey. Only 21 percent of British drivers reported chatting on their cell phones while behind the wheel, for example. In Germany and France it was about 40 percent.
The same goes for reading or sending texts or emails. About a third of U.S. drivers said they did that. And that's about double what it was in Spain and Great Britain.
Health officials say that's a big problem because driving while distracted causes fatal car accidents. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,331 Americans were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 3,267 in 2010.
And people tend to think they're better at multi-tasking than they really are, according to this recent study.
"The cell phone can be a fatal distraction for those who use it while they drive," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in a statement. "Driving and dialing or texting don't mix. If you are driving, pull over to safe place and stop before you use your phone."
The analysis in this week's issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report is based on surveys of 3,696 Americans and 10,338 Europeans conducted in 2011.
There were no differences between men and women, but younger adults — ages 18 to 34 — were more likely to use a device while driving than those who were middle-aged or elderly, the CDC says.
"It's especially risky for young, inexperienced drivers — who are already extremely vulnerable to crashes — to be distracted when they are behind the wheel," said Linda Degutis of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in the statement.