A new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that texting while driving increased 50 percent last year. 20 percent of drivers say they have sent texts or emails while in command of a vehicle.

Drivers were monitored at selected stoplights and intersections to see how many were using a cell phone or other hand-held electronic device while behind the wheel. According to the report, at any given time, 0.9 percent of drivers were engaged with a phone or GPS. In 2009, only 0.6 percent of drivers were distracted with gadgets while on the road.

In a separate phone survey of 6,000 drivers ages 18 or older, 18 percent of respondents said they have sent text messages or emails while driving. For drivers between the ages of 21 and 24, that number jumps to a staggering 50 percent. The majority of drivers admitted to answering the phone while driving and continuing a conversation.

Many states have passed laws against talking and texting while driving. News Observer points out that Pennsylvania became the 35th state to forbid texting last month but the public service announcements and the fear of getting a ticket hasn’t curbed the bad behavior. The NHTSA estimates that 3,092 deaths occurred in 2010 as a result of driver distractions. The figure was obtained using new methods to better calculate the exact number and as such, cannot be compared to stats from previous years.

Texting image from Shutterstock.