AAA report says most US drivers engage in risky behavior while behind wheel

WILMINGTON — Driving while distracted, impaired, drowsy, speeding, running red lights or not wearing a seat belt.

About 87 percent of drivers engaged in at least one of those risky behaviors while behind the wheel within the past month, according to latest research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. These results come as nearly 33,000 Americans died in car crashes in 2014, and preliminary estimates project a 9 percent increase in deaths for 2015.

The report, released Thursday, finds that one in three drivers have had a friend or relative seriously injured or killed in a crash, and one in five have been involved in a crash serious enough for someone to go to the hospital.

“There is a culture of indifference for far too many drivers when it comes to road safety,” said Jim Lardear, director of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “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.”

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving is a factor in at least 3,000 deaths per year, but believes 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.

Among the distractions:

• More than two in three drivers, or 70 percent, report talking on a cell phone while driving within the past 30 days. Nearly 31 percent report doing this fairly often or regularly.

• More than 42 percent of drivers admit to reading a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days, while 12 percent report doing this fairly often or regularly. Nearly 32 percent admit to typing or sending a text or email over the past month, while 8 percent say they do so fairly often or regularly.

• More than 80 percent of drivers view distracted driving as a bigger problem than three years ago.

In 2014, Delaware State Police had 5,324 of the state’s traffic crashes listed with driver inattention, distraction or fatigue as a contributing circumstance. Of all the other circumstances cited by State Police, this category was used most.

But it’s not just distracted driving. Previous NHTSA research estimates that speed plays a factor in nearly 10,000 deaths per year. Drivers are more likely to be seriously injured or killed at higher speeds, and speeding increases the risk of being in a crash because there is less time and distance available to respond.

• Nearly half of all drivers (48 percent) report going 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway in the past month, while 15 percent admit doing so fairly often or regularly.

• About 45 percent of drivers report going 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street in the past 30 days, and 11 percent admit doing so fairly often or regularly.
In Delaware, 220 of the state’s 2014 traffic crashes listed speed as a contributing circumstance.

Not getting enough sleep also is factor.

The AAA Foundation estimates 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.

• Nearly one in three drivers (32 percent) 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 one in five (22 percent) admitted doing this more than once during that time.

In 2014, Delaware State Police had 5,324 of the state’s traffic crashes listed with driver inattention, distraction or fatigue as a contributing circumstance. Of all the other circumstances used by State Police, this category was used most.

Other problem areas include:

• Running red lights: The NHTSA estimates 697 people were killed and 127,000 were injured in crashes that involved red-light running in 2013.

More than 39 percent admit to driving through a light that had just turned red when they could have stopped safely during the past 30 days.

In 2014, 635 of Delaware’s traffic crashes listed disregarding a traffic signal as a contributing circumstance.

• Seatbelt use: The NHTSA reports nearly half of all vehicle occupants who died in a crash in 2013 were unrestrained at the time of the crash. Seatbelts can reduce the risk of fatal injury by more than 45 percent.

Nearly 18 percent of drivers say they haven’t used a seatbelt within the past 30 days, and more than 15 percent admit to doing this more than once.

The Delaware Office of Highway Safety reports that of the 18 traffic fatalities between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21, seven of those killed were not wearing seat belts. The Delaware State Police report that of the people injured on Delaware roads in 2014 who were not wearing their seat belts, one out of three received a serious injury while of those who were wearing their seat belts, only one out of 15 received a serious injury.

• Impaired driving: Nearly 10,000 deaths a year are from crashes involving drivers with a blood-alcohol content of .08 or higher, according to the NHTSA. It also calculates that impaired-driving crashes cost the country more than $50 billion per year.

More than one in eight motorists (13 percent) report driving when their alcohol level might have been near or over the legal limit within the past 12 months. About 9 percent of drivers report doing this more than once over the past year.

Delaware State Police reported that alcohol was involved in 46 percent of the 111 fatal crashes in Delaware in 2014. Of all the drivers killed in fatal crashes, 55 percent of them were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

The survey results are part of the AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which identifies attitudes and behaviors related to driver safety. The survey data are from a sample of 2,442 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 www.AAAFoundation.org.

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com

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