AAA: Distracted driving, driver apathy for safety making roads treacherous

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Credit: Reuters

AAA says about 87% of drivers engaged in at least one risky behavior – from speeding to texting -- while behind the wheel within the past 30 days

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You don’t need to drive very far to appreciate that there’s a lot of non-driving activities taking place in our cars on our roadways.

As bad as you think it is out there, it might be worse be: A study out today from travel and traffic experts at AAA says about 87% of drivers engaged in at least one risky behavior – from speeding to texting -- while behind the wheel within the past 30 days.

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The survey results are part of the AAA Foundation’s eighth annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which measures driver safety attitudes and behaviors.

AAA said the disturbing results of its survey come as nearly 33,000 Americans died in car crashes in 2014, and preliminary estimates project a nine percent increase in deaths for 2015.

“There is a culture of indifference for far too many drivers when it comes to road safety,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in a statement. “The vast majority of motorists believe they are more careful than others on the road, though most of them are not making safe decisions while behind the wheel.”

Distracted driving of course is one of the main focus items of the wide-ranging study that conducted an online survey between July 28 and August 12, 2015 of 2,545 U.S. licensed drivers age 16 and older that had driven at least once in the past 30 days.

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driving data AAA

On the distracted driving issue (from AA study):

  • More than 2 in 3 drivers (70%) report talking on a cell phone while driving within the past 30 days. Nearly 1 in 3 drivers (31%) report doing this fairly often or regularly.
  • Cell phone use while driving is widespread. More than 2 in 3 drivers report talking on their cell phone while driving in the past month, and nearly 1 in 3 say they do so fairly often or regularly. There is fairly strong disapproval toward using a hand-held cell phone while driving (68.6%), but more than 2 in 5 drivers believe incorrectly that most others actually approve of it. People are more accepting of hands-free cell phone use than hand-held (63.1% vs. 30.8%).
  • More than 2 in 3 drivers (70.3%) support restricting the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, but less than half (42.4%) support an outright ban on using any type of cell phone (including hands-free) while driving.
  • There is strong support (87.7%) for laws restricting reading, typing, or sending a text message or email while driving.
  • More than 2 in 5 drivers (42%) admit to reading a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days, while 12% report doing this fairly often or regularly. Nearly 1 in 3 drivers (32%) admit to typing or sending a text or email over the past month, while eight percent say they do so fairly often or regularly.
  • Most drivers view texting or emailing while driving as a very serious threat to their own personal safety and consider it completely unacceptable. However, more than 1 in 8 drivers (14.1%) don’t perceive social disapproval from others; nearly 1 in 3 (31.5%) admit to typing or sending a text message or email while driving in the past month; and more than 2 in 5 (42.3%) report reading a text message or email while driving in the past month.
  • Self-reported distracted driving behavior and support for laws that prohibit or limit distracted driving behavior vary widely by age. Drivers ages 25-39 report reading and typing text messages and emails while driving in the past 30 days more than any other age group, with drivers ages 19-24 following closely behind. Drivers ages 19-59 were the most likely to report having talked on a cell phone while driving. Drivers over 60 years of age engage in these activities while driving less than any other age group. The social acceptability of engaging in distracting activities also varied by age: drivers ages 60 and older are the least likely to say that talking on a hand-held or hands-free cell phone while driving is acceptable, while those ages 19-24 are most likely to say that typing texts or emails while driving is acceptable. Drivers ages 25-39 were the least likely to support laws that restrict text messaging and all cell phone use while driving.
  • Over 80% of drivers view distracted driving as a bigger problem than three years ago.
  • Previous research by NHTSA estimates that distracted driving is a factor in at least 3,000 deaths per year, though the actual number is likely much higher. Drivers who take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds can double their risk of being in a crash.

While distracted driving is a hot topic, there plenty of other driving behaviors threaten us on the rods. For example, AAA said that close to 94% of drivers view it as unacceptable to drive through a traffic light that just turned red when they could have stopped safely; however more than 1 in 3 drivers (38.7%) admit doing this in the past month.

Some other disquieting findings:

AAA also found that nearly half of all drivers (45.0%) say they have driven 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street in the past month. Nearly half of all drivers (48%) report going 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway in the past month, while 15% admit doing so fairly often or regularly. There is greater social disapproval for speeding on a residential street than on the freeway (88.6% versus 74.1%), AAA stated.

Nearly 1 in 3 drivers (32%) say they have driven when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open in the past 30 days. More than 1 in 5 (22%) admitted doing this more than once during that time. Previous research by the AAA Foundation estimates that drowsy driving is a factor in an average of 328,000 crashes annually, including 109,000 crashes that result in injuries and 6,400 fatal crashes.

More than 1 in 8 motorists (13%) report driving when their alcohol level might have been near or over the legal limit within the past 12 months. About nine percent of drivers report doing this more than once over the past year, AAA stated.

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