U.S. Drivers Distracted Behind the Wheel

Forty-three percent of U.S. drivers admit to talking on cell phones while on the road, and 10 percentage say that "a romantic moment" has taken place behind the wheel, according to a survey released Thursday.

The results, according to one safety group, suggest that Americans are driving while increasingly distracted by gadgets, food, and even sex.

"The bottom line is we, the drivers, are our own worst enemy," says Art Carlson, national

coordinator for a safety group called Drive for Life.

Fifty-two percent of U.S. drivers say they eat while behind the wheel.

Read Web MD's "Drivers Distracted by More Than Phones."

Distracted Young Drivers

Unsafe practices are significantly more common in young drivers, the group says. Eight in 10 drivers under age 25 told researchers that they regularly eat behind the wheel, while nearly seven in 10 talk on a cell phone. A third said that they read or send cell phone text messages while driving, a task which requires close attention to a small screen and buttons.

Meanwhile, a third of young drivers said they've had a "romantic moment" while operating a moving vehicle, though officials declined to define just how romantic those moments typically are.

"Pull over, kids. You've got time," Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said to reporters Thursday.

The Mason-Dixon survey polled 1,100 licensed drivers nationwide.

JohnsHopkins Universitypsychology researcher Steven Yantis, PhD, says his research has shown that humans are notoriously poor multitaskers, a fact that can help lead to auto accidents. Young adults in one experiment had a difficult time remembering patterns on a video screen when they were forced to view them while listening to a series of voices through headphones.

"Attention really is a zero-sum game. If you shift attention from one area of perception, you will pay a price in another," he says.

Unsafe driving seemed to go beyond just a lack of attention to the road, however. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed admit to speeding, though experts point out that the actual number is probably higher. One-quarter say it's OK to drive 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, a sentiment shared by half of drivers under age 25, the survey showed.

Read Web MD's "Driving Is Hazardous to Your Health."

By Todd Zwillich, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Drive for Life Annual National Driver Survey, July 7, 2005. Art Carlson, national coordinator, Drive for Life. Bill Johnson, National Association of Police Organizations. Steven Yantis, PhD, professor, department of psychological and brain sciences, Johns Hopkins University.