Nine out of 10 people send text messages when they are behind the wheel, a study showed Wednesday.

Some 90 percent of those surveyed said they either send text messages or check for new ones while driving, according to a study conducted by the Hyundai Insurance Research Center (HIRC), which is affiliated with Hyundai Marine & Fire Insurance.

They surveyed 1,000 people 20 years of age and above in November.

According to age groups, 92.7 percent of people in their 20s; 94 percent of people in their 30s; 94.2 percent of people in their 40s; and 90.3 percent people in their 50s replied that they send or read text messages while behind the wheel of their vehicle.

Some 70 percent of the total said they do so while waiting at traffic lights.

Sending or viewing messages is not illegal here, but could lead to accidents, experts say.

According to the law, only those who view TVs or videos or use cell phones can be punished by fines of up to 70,000 won depending on the size of the vehicle.

“The punishment applies to only those who engage in such activity while the vehicle is moving. So if any of such activities were conducted inside a temporarily stopped vehicle, including those at the traffic lights, it is not in violation of the law,” said one official from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

Kim Tae-ho, a senior research fellow at the institute, said it is necessary to revise the law to punish text-messaging behind the wheel.

“Distracted driving is very serious cause of accidents. More than half of such accidents occur when the driver fails to look straight ahead,” he said.

Compared with the U.S., the law here is too porous, he added.

“In New Jersey, U.S., the state with the harshest punishment for such distracted driving, the perpetrators can be punished with fines up to $800, with their license suspended for 90 days. Our government should also recognize that such distraction result in a high number of deaths,” he said.

According to DISTRACTION.GOV, a U.S. government website, 44 states ban sending text messages while driving, and 14 states prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell-phones while driving.


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