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Study shows Europeans text behind the wheel as much as Americans

Americans are known for being bad drivers. We’re the nation of the cupholder and the Ford Pinto. We don’t take safe driving seriously, because we have other things to do. Things are different in Europe, though. Surely the birthplace of Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Porsche takes driving more seriously. The epidemic of texting on American roads couldn’t possibly happen there, right? A new study begs to differ.

The study, commissioned by Ford, involved a survey of 5,500 drivers from five European countries. Forty-eight percent of survey participants admitted to texting while driving. At least they felt that they were doing something wrong: more than half of the respondents said texting increases a driver’s reaction time by 50 percent.

The most distracted nation was Italy; 61 percent of Italian respondents admitted to texting while driving. Next came Russia, with 55 percent, then France and Spain, with 49 and 40 percent, respectively. The nation least likely to text while driving was England, at 33 percent.

According to Ford, Europeans text at the same rate as Americans when behind the wheel. A 2010 Pew Research Center study found that 47 percent of adult American respondents admitted to texting while driving. Either Americans have a new excuse for their behavior, or we’re dragging the rest of the world down with us.

The Ford study coincided with the launch of Sync in Europe. The system can read text messages and the driver can respond with voice commands. Sync, along with the MyFord Touch connectivity systems, has been on sale in the U.S. for a few years, with mixed reviews. Ford will not be the first company to offer enhanced connectivity in Europe; systems like BMW’s iDrive have been on sale there as long as they have been in the U.S. BMW never tried to prove that its customers were bad drivers, though.

In a sense, America is leading the way when it comes to in-car technology. The potentially deadly combination of texting and driving has been a public issue in the U.S. for quite awhile. In fact, American lawmakers have moved on from texting itself to scrutinize the supposedly safer alternatives, like Sync. Last December, the National Transportation Safety Board proposed a ban on all cell phone use while driving. A few months later, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued proposed regulations for in-car electronics.

This new study could prompt European governments to take a closer look at driver behavior. If they do, they might be shocked to find that they are no better than the people that made the Chevy Corvair.