Distracted driving has been called an “epidemic” as though it were a public illness spread by a pathogen, and while authorities also say it results from individual decisions, Americans have it worse in many ways than those in seven other western countries.

Nearly seven out of 10 Americans – 69 percent – surveyed over a one month period aged 18-64 focused on tasks other than driving by talking on the phone behind the wheel. Nearly one in three – 31 percent – of them sent e-mails and text messages while driving.

This is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which surveyed drivers in the U.S., Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

In Europe, the percentage of people who talked on the phone while driving at the worse end of the spectrum was 59 percent in Portugal, and in the UK, just 21 percent did it. Text messaging behind the wheel was lower in Spain, the CDC said, at 15 percent.

It’s estimated that in the U.S., 24 percent of the serious injuries resulting from 3.5 million motor vehicle crashes annually can be traced to being distracted by the practice of communications on the phone while attempting to drive.

Another study by the University of Utah compared drivers who attempted to control a vehicle while on the phone with those intoxicated with alcohol, and found of the two behaviors, drunks had fewer accidents.

Other studies liken being over the 0.8 percent blood alcohol content legally defining intoxication as being roughly just as dangerous as cell phone use behind the wheel.

“Distracted driving is a serious public health issue,” wrote the CDC media relations department yesterday in its publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “Fortunately, distracted driving is something that every driver can take steps to avoid—we can all pay attention behind the wheel and commit to distraction-free driving.”