WASHINGTON — Nearly 2 out of every 10 drivers and half of drivers ages 21 to 24 say they are texting behind the wheel, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey released Thursday.
The nationally representative survey questioned more than 6,000 drivers in November and December of 2010.
Among other survey findings:
• When asked how they think their driving is different when talking on the phone or sending messages, about half of drivers said talking on a handheld device and one quarter said texting or sending messages makes no difference in their driving performance.
• Men and women are equally likely to make or accept phone calls, read incoming email or text messages and send messages while driving.
• Drivers younger than 25 are two to three times more likely than older drivers to read or send text messages or emails.
• There were very few situations when drivers would never talk on the phone or never send texts or emails while driving. Bad weather was the primary driving situation cited by half the drivers, and a quarter said bumper-to-bumper or fast-moving traffic would influence their decision not to place calls or send messages,
• The majority of drivers, 66 percent, indicated their most common action when receiving calls while driving is to answer and keep driving.
• Drivers under 25 are two to four times more likely than older drivers to avoid talking while driving when they see a police officer, but five times less likely to avoid talking while driving when merging with traffic.
• A higher share of women than men said they would never send texts while moving, 12 percent compared to 5 percent.
• About 9 in 10 drivers said that when they are passengers they would consider a driver who was sending or reading a text message or email as very unsafe. Even among the youngest drivers, 62 percent said they would feel that way.
• Forty percent of drivers said that, when they are passengers, they are very likely to say something if their driver is talking on a handheld cell phones, and three-quarters said they would say something if their driver was texting or sending. Women and older drivers were more likely to speak up; men and younger drivers less likely.
• By large majorities, drivers support bans on handheld cell phone use and texting while driving, 71 percent and 94 percent respectively. A majority also approve of fines of $100 or higher for handheld cell phone use and for texting. Almost a quarter support fines in the $200 to $499 range.