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Over the past five years we've made some huge advances in vehicle safety, including the broader application of life-saving innovations like side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, and even tire-pressure monitoring.

Yet 35 percent of U.S. drivers are feeling less safe today than five years ago.

The main reason? Concern over driver distraction.

The results are from the second annual 2009 Traffic Safety Culture Index, released from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the non-profit education and research arm of AAA, and based on a telephone survey of 2,501 U.S. adults conducted by Abt SRBI Inc.

Eighty percent of those motorists polled rated distracted driving as a serious safety threat, though more than half of those admitted to having read or sent texts or e-mails while driving.

Just yesterday told you about new research from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute suggesting that texting can make the risk of a crash or near-crash 23 times higher (yes, that's not a typo).

The data shows that people "fear distracted drivers almost as much as drunk drivers," according to the AAA Foundation's president and CEO, Peter Kissinger.

Much of the data followed whether drivers tend to practice what they fear other drivers practicing. For example, nine out of ten people considered tailgating acceptable, yet 24 percent of those same people admitted to tailgating in the past 30 days; and 95 percent of those polled agreed that speeding 15 mph or more over the limit on residential streets was unacceptable, yet 21 percent said they had done so in the past month.

Overall, 90 percent of those polled said that driving under the influence of alcohol was a serious threat to safety, while 87 percent thought the same about text messaging or e-mail. Ninety-five percent of respondents thought that texting while driving was completely or somewhat unacceptable.

Just 12 percent of those asked felt that they were safer while driving now versus five years ago.

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