WASHINGTON (AP) -- At any given time, about 3 percent of drivers are talking on hand-held cell phone while operating their vehicle, according to a government survey unveiled this week.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 500,000 drivers are talking on their cell phones simultaneously during the daytime. Rates nearly doubled during non-rush hours.
Officials at the agency say this is the first such research report to quantify cell phone use on American highways. NHTSA data collectors observed more than 12,000 vehicles at 640 intersections around the country last fall.
The survey does not cover "hand free" phones that some drivers use and does not attempt to determine the phones' roll in accidents. NHTSA estimates that some form of driver distraction -- including talking, eating, reading or even changing radio stations -- is involved in 20 to 30 percent of all crashes.
The survey had a margin of error of 1 percentage point.
Those driving vans and SUVs are most likely to use a cell phone while driving, while pickup drivers used them the least.
The highest use rate observed during the survey -- 8 percent -- was for drivers of vans and SUVs during non-rush hours.
Women use their cell phones more than men, 3.4 percent to 2.7 percent. And white drivers use it 3.7 percent of the time, compared to 2.3 percent for black drivers and 1.7 percent for other races.
Rates are slightly higher in suburban areas than in rural areas, 3.4 percent to 3 percent.
New York became the first state to pass a ban on using cell phones while driving last month. At least a dozen localities and 23 foreign countries have established bans, and several other states are considering similar laws.
On the Net: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.