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(Reuters) - Most young American drivers agree that it is dangerous to text while driving, but nearly a third admit they do it anyway, a survey by Consumer Reports shows.
While eight in ten said they knew of the risks, about 29 percent of drivers 16 to 21 said they had used text messaging in the past month, the survey found. And, 47 percent said they had made a phone call while driving, without a headset or other hands-free device.
The same survey showed that 48 percent said they had seen one or both of their parents using a cell phone without a hands-free device.
Nevertheless, last year there were the fewest traffic fatalities in the United States in more than six decades.
The number would have been even lower if not for traffic deaths caused by drivers who were distracted by using a mobile phone or engaged in other types of attention-dividing tasks, said Rebecca Lindland, director of automotive research for IHS Inc.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that in 2010, some 3,092 were killed in "distracted-affected crashes," or 9.4 percent of all road deaths.
A NHTSA survey earlier this year showed that younger drivers from ages 18 to 20 showed the highest level of phone involvement in crashes or near-crashes. Drivers of this age are three times more likely to read or send an email or text message while driving than those 25 and older, the NHTSA survey found.
Reports of texting while driving drop sharply as age increases, NHTSA said.
The Consumer Reports survey said that half the young drivers survey said they are less likely to text while driving or use a handheld phone while a friend is in the vehicle with them.
A NHTSA observational study found that in the latest two years for which data was available, 2009 and 2010, 5 percent of drivers were seen talking on handheld phones.
Thirty-seven of the 50 U.S. states have totally banned using the keyboard - texting - on a mobile phone or other device while driving, and 10 states have outlawed the use of handheld phones.
The states, along with the District of Columbia, that have banned phone calls while driving - without using a hands-free device - are California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, New York and Connecticut.
The Consumer Reports survey questioned 1,049 people ages 16 to 21 and the NHTSA survey from earlier this year questioned 6,000 people of driving age. Both surveys were of U.S. drivers.
Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Jackie Frank