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April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month but, a new AAA Foundation survey indicates that almost all drivers are already aware of the problem – and fear it is getting worse.
The annual Traffic Safety Culture Index survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that 88 percent of drivers nationwide believe distracted driving is on the rise, topping other risky behaviors like:
Aggressive driving: 68 percent
Drivers using drugs: 55 percent
Drunk driving: 43 percent
A Disturbing Trend:
The proportion of drivers who report talking on a cell phone regularly or fairly often when behind the wheel jumped 46 percent since 2013. Almost half of all drivers (49 percent) report recently talking on a hand-held phone while driving and nearly 35 percent have sent a text or email.
Despite their own behavior, most drivers (nearly 58 percent) 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.
“What we have seen year after year is this ‘do as I say not as I do’ behavior. A sense that ‘I can text but you can’t’, which is extremely troubling,” says Ragina Cooper Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic.
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 intention of the Traffic Safety Culture survey is to better understand drivers’ perceptions and attitudes towards risky behaviors, so we can figure out the best possible way to address those issues and reduce crashes,” Averella says. “With more than 37,000 fatal crashes nationwide every year, we’ve got to do everything we can to save more lives”.
In Maryland, there were 865 deaths and more than 134,000 injuries due to traffic crashes involving a distracted driver over a five-year period from 2012 to 2016, according to the latest data from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s Highway Safety Office. From 2015 to 2016, fatalities from distracted driver-involved crashes increased by 49 percent while injuries increased by 14 percent.
Drivers under 30 years old account for a third –nearly 35 percent – of all distracted drivers in crashes on average in Maryland over the five-year period.
In Annapolis, lawmakers are once again debating a measure, HB 42, that would increase the maximum fine for texting and driving to $500.
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.
“The number of distractions behind the wheel is increasing, from phone apps to in-vehicle technology, increasing the urgency to educate all drivers on the dangers of distraction,” says Kurt Gray, Director of Driver Services at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “This is something we are, of course, addressing in our driving programs, but distraction is not just a teen driving issue. It’s an everybody issue.”
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.
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 58 million members nationwide and more than 937,000 members in Maryland. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit AAA.com.