THURSDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- Distracted driving due to texting and use of other electronic devices is common among college students in California, according to a new study.

Previous research has shown that using cell phones while driving increases the risk of crashes fourfold, and that handheld and hands-free phones are equally dangerous. The risk of crashing while texting is eight to 16 times higher than normal.

The new study included nearly 5,000 students, average age 21, from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD); San Diego State University; the University of San Diego; California State, San Marcos; and eight smaller colleges in the region.

The researchers found that 78 percent of the students reported using a cell phone to talk or text while driving, 52 percent said they used hands-free devices while driving at least some of the time, 47 percent used hands-free devices at least half of the time while driving and 25 percent frequently used hands-free devices.

Half of the students said they send texts while driving on the freeway, 60 percent send texts while in stop-and-go traffic or when driving on city streets, and 87 percent send texts while at traffic lights. Only 12 percent said they never text while behind the wheel, even when stopped at a traffic light, the investigators noted.

"Distracted driving is a highly prevalent behavior in college students who have misplaced confidence in their own driving skills and their ability to multitask," Dr. Linda Hill, a clinical professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at UCSD School of Medicine, said in a UCSD Health Sciences news release. "Despite the known dangers, distracted driving has become an accepted behavior."

"This study highlights the high prevalence of distracted driving in college students, including texting while driving, something we see first-hand each and every day," Robert Clark, assistant chief of the Border Division of the California Highway Patrol, said in the release. "The demonstration of misplaced confidence in their own and others' ability to multitask may lead to opportunities for us to educate and employ some risk-abatement strategies."

The findings were presented at a media conference Tuesday at the UCSD Medical Center.

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more about distracted driving.