ford safety tour

Ford visited 28 cities in 11 countries this summer to demonstrate new safety systems (Photo: Ford)

A poll conducted by Ford in major European markets found that drivers continue to use handheld mobile phones, despite increased legislation aimed at curbing driver distraction.

The survey of more than 4,300 drivers in Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Britain also showed that many European car drivers eat, drink, apply make-up, send text messages or even nap while driving a car.

The results underscored a growing driver distraction problem, with 47 pc of German motorists saying they have used handheld mobile phones while driving and 66 pc admitting to eating and drinking behind the wheel. In Italy, moreover, 43 pc said they drive with one hand, while 14 pc confirmed they have sent text messages while driving.

"This survey clearly demonstrates the urgent need for us all to improve our concentration levels behind the wheel," said Stuart Southgate, director of Ford of Europe's Automotive Safety Office.

Though statistics generally support notions that driving is getting safer, European Union data showed that, in 2009, more than 1.5 million people were injured in road accidents across Europe.

Ford and other major carmakers are introducing a range of new systems to combat driver distraction. These include, on the infotainment side, better and more intuitive user interfaces in the car. Voice command systems and head up displays also play a key role in this development.

Driver distraction is also a factor of growing importance because drivers increasingly want to have all infotainment features they have at home in the car as well. That means automakers are having to provide access to e-mail, text messaging, social networking and other online functions.