Survey Shows Many Drivers Ignore Own Safety Advice

A new survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety provides the latest proof that most motorists talk a better game about driving safely than they actually put into practice.

According to the results of the national survey released this week, 86 percent of motorists consider it unacceptable to drive without a seat belt, yet 23 percent admit to doing so within the past 30 days, and 19 percent confess to committing the traffic violation more than once.

In another example of drivers’ actions being out of sync with their attitudes, 97 percent said driving after drinking alcohol is unacceptable—and 76 percent called it a very serious threat to their personal safety—but more than 14 percent of respondents said they had driven when they believed their blood alcohol content (BAC) was close to or over the presumptive limit of .08 on at least one occasion within the last year. And 21 percent admitted to doing so within the previous month.

Drinking and drivingAAA officials said the survey shows that more needs to be done to keep roadways safe, despite statistics from federal safety officials that show 2010 saw the fewest number of deadly vehicle crashes in six decades.

“Even one death on our roads is unacceptable,” Peter Kissinger, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. “Something is terribly amiss in our traffic safety culture when, in the safest year since 1949, on average there is still one needless death every 16 minutes in motor vehicle crashes.”

The survey is just the latest to demonstrate the apparent disconnect between motorists’ beliefs about safe driving habits and how they actually drive.

According to another survey released by the foundation in November, 32 percent of respondents said they had driven within the past month while barely staying awake, despite the fact that 96 percent described so-called “drowsy driving” as unacceptable and 56 percent said they think those who engage in that risky behavior constitute a very serious safety threat.

Officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) say that drowsy driving contributes to more than 100,000 crashes, 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths a year.

But safety officials point out that those statistics are probably unrealistically low because driver fatigue—which leads to slower reaction time and information processing, as well as reduced vigilance—is consistently underreported as a cause of vehicle crashes.

NHTSA says the motorists most likely to drive despite being drowsy are males from 16 to 29, people who work at night or put in long or irregular hours on the job and those with untreated sleeping disorders.

Those findings bolster long-held views within the insurance industry, which has long considered teens a greater risk than other drivers to cover, a belief that makes it difficult for many families nationwide to fine inexpensive car insurance for teens.

Federal safety officials announced late last month that there were only 32,885 highway deaths last year, the lowest level since 1949, despite the fact that automobile traffic was up 1.6 percent over the previous year.

There was also a 4.9 percent reduction from the previous year in the number of people killed in crashes involving drunken drivers, with 10,228 people dying in such accidents last year.

But according to the foundation’s most recent survey, most motorists still fail to live up to their own safe driving standards.

The survey found that 94 percent of drivers consider texting behind the wheel to be a serious risk, yet 35 percent owned up to reading a text or email while in the driver’s seat during the past month and 26 percent said they had sent a message while driving within the preceding 30 days.

And whereas 74 percent of drivers thought it unacceptable for drivers to exceed freeway speed limits by more than 15 mph, 52 percent had done it anyway. Also, 96 percent of those polled said they thought it was unacceptable for someone to drive when they are so tired they can barely retain consciousness, but 32 percent said they had been guilty of that lapse in judgment.

“We are moving in the right direction when it comes to safety on our roads, but we need to do much more,” Kissinger said. “Changing driver behaviors is not rocket science… it’s harder. Take the first step and make a personal goal to be a safe driver in 2012.”

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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