CINCINNATI, Jan 22 (Reuters Life!) - Talk on the phone while you're driving? Fix your makeup? Check e-mail? You're not alone.

A survey released on Monday shows 81 percent of Americans do more than drive when they're behind the wheel.

More than eight of 10 people surveyed by Nationwide Mutual Insurance said they adjust the radio or music while they drive, while 73 percent talk on the phone, 68 percent eat, 19 percent send text messages and 5 percent checked their e-mail.

Personal hygiene was also a big driver distraction, with 19 percent fixing their hair, 12 percent putting on makeup and 2 percent shaving while at the controls of a car.

"Clearly Americans have much to do and little time to do it, so to cope with that we've become multitaskers," said Bill Windsor, associate vice president of Safety at Nationwide.

"The problem with that is driving requires focus, and multitasking while driving puts you and your fellow drivers at risk."

Drivers in the survey also admitted to changing seats with passengers, watching a movie, painting their toenails, nursing a baby and putting in contact lenses while driving.

Younger drivers multitask the most, the survey found, with 35 percent of 18-to-27-year-olds saying they always multitask in the car, compared to 21 percent of baby boomers.

Windsor said the consequences for young drivers are severe, with car accidents being the number one cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 27.

"The bottom line is if it can be done in the kitchen, bathroom, office or bedroom, it should not be done in the car," Windsor said.

While some U.S. jurisdictions require hands-free devices for cell phone use in cars, most of the activities listed in the survey are not illegal unless they are determined to be the cause of an accident.

The survey of 1,200 drivers between the ages of 18 and 60 found that while 83 percent believe they are safe drivers, 38 percent admitted they have driven a certain distance without any recollection of doing so.

Sandra Guile, spokeswoman for AAA in Cincinnati, said the automobile club's driving instructors have seen it all, and work hard to try to correct the bad habits.

"Imagine if you're going 55 miles an hour down the road and you spill something on your suit and you have a meeting that day -- you're going to be more worried about grabbing a napkin than watching the road," said Guile. "But it just takes a split second to look away and there's an accident."

Cincinnati professor Penny Braboy said that while she never eats or makes phone calls while driving, she does answer the phone if it rings -- and she admits to other distractions.

"I have put on lipstick in the car," Braboy, 55, said with a laugh. "And I might try to look for something in my purse, which I know is dangerous."

But she said her distractions have never caused an accident.

"I try to be careful," said she, getting into her sport utility vehicle, Starbucks coffee in hand.



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