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OMG! Drivers say texting and driving is unsafe but do it anyway, AAA finds

Thirty-five percent of motorists feel less safe than they did five years ago, a new study by AAA has found.

The main reason: people who are texting while driving, e-mailing and talking on cell phones.

But many of those same drivers admit they are part of the problem.

Eighty percent of motorists say distracted driving is a "very serious threat to their safety," and more than half admit that reading, e-mailing or texting while driving increases their chances of having an accident, according to the 2009 Traffic Safety Culture Index released Wednesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Among the other findings:

• 87 percent said driving while texting/messaging/e-mailing was a "very serious threat" to safety, and 90 percent describe drinking and driving the same way.

• More than two-thirds admitted talking on a cell phone and 21 percent admitted reading or sending a text message or e-mail while driving in the past month.

• 58 percent said talking on a cell phone while driving was a "very serious threat to their safety," but 55 percent of the same group had done it in the past month.

• More than half of drivers considered talking on a hands-free phone acceptable, although various studies have shown that the act of talking on the phone is a public safety threat, not whether the driver's hands are free.

The survey comes as evidence of the dangers of distracted drivers continues to mount.

In 6-year-old data just recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers estimated that cell phone-using motorists contributed to about 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents in 2002, and that they were as likely to cause a crash as someone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08, the level at which the state of Florida deems a driver impaired.

A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that drivers of heavy trucks were 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash if texting, and that using a cell phone or reaching for an electronic device increased the likelihood of an accident sixfold for all drivers.

The Virginia Tech study observed light vehicle drivers and truckers with cameras for more than 6 million miles.

The study, however, somewhat contradicted reports that suggest conversing on a phone is as dangerous as texting.

"Talking/listening to a cell phone allowed drivers to maintain eyes on the road and were not associated with an increased safety risk to nearly the same degree," the institute said in a release. "A real key to significantly improving safety is keeping your eyes on the road."

But the study found that hands-free devices do not make talking while driving markedly safer because drivers look away from the road to dial and answer.

The researchers recommended a texting ban for all drivers — already law in 14 states, but not Florida.

The Florida Highway Patrol is embarking on a "no-distractions" awareness campaign — and that newly licensed teens be prohibited from using cell phones while behind the wheel.

"There are many motorists who would never consider drinking and driving, yet they think it's somehow okay to text or e-mail while driving. We need to stigmatize distracted driving to the same degree as drunk driving in our culture, because both behaviors are deadly," AAA Foundation president and CEO Peter Kissinger said. "This survey shines the light on drivers behaving badly; it also raises some dangerous public misconceptions. We'd like to end the belief that 'it's the other guy's problem' and end the false sense of security that 'if I chat on a hands-free cell phone I'm somehow safer.' "

An independent firm commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a random sample telephone survey of 2,501 U.S. adults in English and in Spanish from April 15 to May 12. The survey has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, according to AAA.

'Fess up

You know you've done it. You've texted while driving. Maybe one-handed, kidding yourself that you can simultaneously type and steer. Maybe two-handed, driving with your forearms. Maybe you did it this morning, even though you know it's a bad idea. Studies say most of us do. So it's confession time: Tell us your story. E-mail bmontgomery@sptimes.com.

OMG! Drivers say texting and driving is unsafe but do it anyway, AAA finds 07/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 2:24pm]
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