AAA Study: Drivers Who Use Cell Phones Probably Have Other Bad Habits

January 28, 2013

Since we were little, we've been told not to judge books by their covers. But AAA would like to remind us of another tried-and-truism: where there's smoke, there's fire. 

That's the gist of a new survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. That survey -- the 2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index -- fielded responses from 3,896 U.S. residents, all of whom were 16 or older. The survey was available in English and Spanish, and the Foundation insists that "the sample is representative of all U.S. households reachable by telephone or by regular mail".

In a nutshell, the survey reveals that folks who use their cell phones while driving are significantly more likely than their peers to engage in other bad driving habits.

It also proves that human beings are highly irrational creatures: while a whopping 89% of those surveyed agreed that other drivers using cell phones posed a threat to their safety, an also-whopping 69% reported chatting on a cell phone themselves while driving within the past 30 days. 

But here's where things get interesting: those drivers who used their cell phones "fairly often" or "regularly" within the previous month were also guilty of other bad driving habits. Notably:

  • 65% said that they'd broken the speed limit.
  • 53% said that they'd sent text messages and/or emails (even though 95% of respondents disapproved of such practices).
  • 44% said that they'd driven drowsy.
  • 29% said that they hadn't worn their safety belt.

Conversely, those who said that they hadn't used a cell phone were much safer drivers:

  • 31% said that they'd broken the speed limit.
  • 3% said that they'd sent text messages and/or emails.
  • 14% said that they'd driven drowsy.
  • 16% said that they hadn't worn their safety belt.

Why does it matter?

It goes without saying that distracted driving is very dangerous -- particularly sending texts and emails. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted".

This is borne out in fatality statistics. The number of deaths caused by distracted driving is on the rise -- in fact, it's one of the few trouble spots on America's otherwise impressive traffic-safety report card. In all, 3,331 traffic deaths were attributed to distracted driving in 2011, which represents an increase of 1.9% over 2010. AAA hopes that the 11 states without texting bans on the books will consider such measures this year.

We don't believe that passing laws alone will do the trick. However, the AAA study seems to indicate that the more drivers understand the problem of distracted driving, the more likely they are to adopt other safe-driving habits. So, making drivers more aware of the dangers of distracted driving could, in theory, make them safer drivers overall.

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