New research from the US has found that the rate of people who admit to regularly ‘surfing and driving’ has increased to almost one in five.

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Insurance company State Farm conducted an informal online survey of 912 road users in the US in November 2010. It discovered that slightly more than 19 percent of drivers admitted to using their mobile phones to access the internet while behind the wheel at least once a week.

Most browsing drivers said they did so while stuck in traffic or when stopped at traffic lights.

Around 35 percent also said they sent or received text messages while driving and an overwhelming 74 percent said they engaged in telephone conversations at least once a week while driving.

These figures may only tell part of the story, however. Director of auto technology research at State Farm, Cindy Garretson, told USA Today the rates of technology use while driving could well be higher than those represented in the survey.

“That 19 percent might be underestimating the actual use of smartphones to access the internet while driving, because the majority of the respondents were in the age range of the 30s," Ms Garretson said."The largest users of cell phones tend to be the younger-age population. We would be very interested to know what that number would be if the focus was on the young adult market.”

State Farm has confirmed it will conduct an in-depth scientific survey into surfing while driving later this year in an attempt to develop a more accurate picture of how widespread the issue is.

The findings come despite a national campaign in the US aiming to reduce instances of distracted driving and highlight its dangers.

More than 5400 people were killed and 448,000 were injured in distracted driving crashes in the US in 2009. Mobile phones were related to 18 percent of the fatalities, and people under 20 years of age were over-represented in the data.

In Australia, it is illegal in all states for the driver to ‘use’ a mobile phone while the car is turned on, however, as our editor explained last year, there are a number of ludicrous holes and exemptions to the rules.

Our advice: If you must use your phone, iPod, iPad or any other device that requires you to take your eyes off the road and/or your hands off the wheel, pull over in a safe place and switch off the ignition before doing so.