WASHINGTON — Texting while driving increased 50 percent last year despite a rush by states to ban the practice, federal safety officials said Thursday. Two out of 10 drivers say they've sent messages from behind the wheel — and that spikes much higher among young adults.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration takes an annual snapshot of drivers' behavior by staking out selected stoplights and intersections to count people using cellphones and handheld Web devices that allow them to text, view directions, check emails, surf the Internet or play games. At any given time, just under 1 percent of drivers were texting or manipulating handheld devices.
The activity increased to 0.9 percent of drivers in 2010, up from 0.6 percent the year before.
In a separate telephone survey of drivers, 18 percent said they've sent texts or emails while at the wheel. That number jumps to half among younger drivers, ages 21 to 24.
The survey also found that most drivers will answer a cellphone call while driving and most will continue to drive while they talk.
NHTSA surveyed 6,000 drivers ages 18 or older in the national poll conducted a year ago and released Thursday.
"What's clear from all of the information we have is that driver distraction continues to be a major problem," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said.
The increase in texting while driving came even though 35 states have banned the practice. Florida is one of the states that doesn't have a ban.