For the Reporter
Distracted driving tops driver’s list of growing dangers on the road, according to a new survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The annual Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that the proportion of drivers who report talking on a cellphone regularly or fairly often when behind the wheel jumped 46 percent since 2013. Nearly half (49 percent) of drivers report recently talking on a hand-held phone while driving and nearly 35 percent have sent a text or email.
Despite their behavior, nearly 58 percent of drivers say talking on a cellphone behind the wheel is a very serious threat to their personal safety, while 78 percent believe that texting is a significant danger. A recent study from the AAA Foundation shows drivers talking on a cellphone are up to four times as likely to crash while those who text are up to eight times as likely to be involved in a crash.
The survey also reveals that 88 percent of drivers believe distracted driving is on the rise, topping other risky behaviors like:
• Aggressive driving: 68 percent
• Drivers using drugs: 55 percent
• Drunken driving: 43 percent
“With more than 37,000 deaths on U.S. roads in 2016, we need to continue finding ways to limit driving distractions and improve traffic safety,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The Foundation’s work offers insight on drivers’ attitudes toward traffic safety and their behaviors, so we can better understand the issue and identify potential countermeasures to reduce crashes.”
Drivers in the AAA survey believe the problem of distracted driving has increased over the past three years, with nearly 50 percent reporting that they regularly see drivers emailing or texting while driving. Counterintuitive, federal estimates show the number of distracted driving crashes has actually dropped two percent. This may be due to the fact that it is difficult to detect distraction following a crash which makes distracted driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues. According to government estimates, distraction plays a factor in just 14 percent of all crashes. However, past AAA Foundation research looking into teen drivers (one of the most vulnerable driving populations), used in-vehicle dash-cam videos to determine that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of crashes, 44 percent more than federal estimates.
“As the number of distractions behind the wheel increases- from the latest phone apps to in-vehicle technology, it is important that we better educate drivers on the dangers of distraction,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “There is a disconnect between what drivers do and what they believe. While most recognize the dangers created by taking your eyes off the road, they engage in distracting behaviors anyway- creating a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ culture on the roadway.”
Any level of risk is too high when it comes to safe driving. Tasks that require a driver to take their eyes or attention off the road should be avoided while the vehicle is in motion- including the use of cellphones, infotainment systems or navigation systems. AAA urges drivers to act responsibly when behind the wheel. In order to avoid distractions, drivers should:
• Put aside electronic distractions and never use text messaging, email, video games or internet functions, including those built into the vehicle, while driving.
• Pre-program your GPS and adjust seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before driving.
• Properly secure children and pets and store loose possessions and other items that could roll around in the car.
• Snack smart by avoiding messy foods that can be difficult to manage.
The new survey results are part of the AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data are from a sample of 2,613 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving in the past 30 days. The AAA Foundation issued its first Traffic Safety Culture Index in 2008, and the latest report is online at AAAFoundation.org.