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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Automakers backed calls to ban drivers on U.S. roads from text messaging with cell phones and other hand-held devices, an issue gaining attention from the Obama administration and Congress.
"It's common sense," Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers trade group, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, a week before the U.S. government holds a distracted driving forum in Washington.
"The use of hand-held devices has increased dramatically and I think there is a temptation to lose focus and take your eyes off the road," McCurdy said.
The auto alliance represents General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler as well as Toyota Motor Co, Volkswagen and other overseas carmakers.
The wireless industry -- including cellphone manufacturers, carriers, and some Internet companies represented by the CTIA-Wireless Association -- also believes texting "is incompatible with safe driving."
The trade group supports state and local efforts to ban texting and driving as well as public education and aggressive enforcement.
There were more than 1 trillion text messages sent and received on wireless devices last year, including cell phones and smart phones, the association said. There are no statistics on how many people drive and text, the group said.
The National Safety Council, a research group, is pushing for a full ban on cell phone use and texting while driving.
Data on crashes linked to texting is anecdotal. But McCurdy cited research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which found in a study released in July that text messaging while driving was significantly more distracting than talking or listening on a cell phone or reaching for an object.
Texting "has the potential to create a true crash epidemic" if it continues to grow in popularity, especially among teenagers as they reach driving age in larger numbers, the researchers said.
Researchers compiled real-world driving data from truck drivers over 18 months. The texting portion of the study was government-funded.
About a dozen U.S. states have passed laws banning texting while driving. A handful have made cellphone use illegal while behind the wheel, a practice that automakers do not oppose in all circumstances.
The U.S. Transportation Department will host a distracted driving conference next week in Washington with safety, technology and other experts. The meeting will also explore legislative and regulatory approaches.
Legislation proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York would withhold 25 percent of federal highway money from states that do not ban texting while driving. A text-while-driving ban has also been proposed in the House of Representatives.
Reporting by John Crawley, editing by Matthew Lewis