Washington, D.C. – More drivers in the U.S. are using hand-held devices while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which reported its findings at the Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C.

“Every single time someone takes their eyes or their focus off the road, even for just a few seconds, they put their lives and the lives of others in danger,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible and in a split second, its consequences can be devastating.”

New research by NHTSA shows that nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. More than 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone on any given day in 2008.

Federal researchers who have directly observed drivers of all ages found that more and more are using a variety of hand-held devices while driving, including cell phones, iPods, video games, Blackberrys and GPS systems. NHTSA found that the worst offenders are men and women under 20 years of age.

“We now know that the worst offenders are the youngest, least experienced drivers,” LaHood said. “Unfortunately, though, the problem doesn’t end there. Distracted driving occurs across all age groups and all modes of transportation, from cars to buses and trucks to trains. We must work together to find solutions that will prevent crashes caused by driver distraction.”

LaHood announced a new study that will be undertaken by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from now through June 2010 that will help researchers to better understand the prevalence of cell phone distraction in conjunction with crashes and near-crashes.

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