Drivers bugged by cellphone use, but they still jabber

WASHINGTON — Bugged by motorists jabbering away on the phone while driving? Perhaps you should look into the car mirror.

Though most drivers say cellphone-using motorists pose a danger, more than two-thirds admit to having talked on a hand-held or hands-free phone from behind the wheel at least once within the previous month, according to a survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Nearly a third said they had done so regularly.

The survey shows a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude that underscores the need to better educate motorists on the risks of distracted driving, “especially given that most Americans believe this problem is becoming worse,” the foundation said.

“Ninety percent of respondents believe that distracted driving is a somewhat or much bigger problem today than it was three years ago, yet they themselves continue to engage in the same activities,” said Peter Kissinger, the foundation’s president and chief executive.

The survey of 3,896 drivers found that motorists who use phones while driving were more likely to engage in other risky behavior. For example, 65 percent of those who often or regularly used phones behind the wheel in the previous month admitted to driving 15 mph or more over the speed limit. In contrast, 31 percent of drivers who reported never using a phone while driving admitted to speeding.

Nearly half of drivers who regularly talked on their phones had also run a red light in the previous month, compared with a quarter of drivers who never used phones while driving.

“Despite greater social disapproval of hand-held cellphone use behind the wheel, over half of those drivers who reported using a cellphone at least once in the past 30 days said that they usually or always held the phone rather than using a hands-free device,” the survey found.

Likewise, a “near-universal” disapproval of drivers’ texting and emailing from behind the wheel does not translate to personal habits. More than 1 in 4 drivers admitted to typing or sending a text or email at least once in the previous month, and more than a third said they had read a text or email while driving during that period, the foundation reported.

Younger motorists were the most active on their devices: 61 percent of drivers ages 16 to 24 and 53 percent ages 25 to 39 reported having read a text or email while driving at least once in the prior 30 days. The percentage fell to 10 percent for drivers age 60 through 74 and to less than 2 percent for those 75 and older.

Support for legislative and regulatory action against distracted driving was mixed.

Though most drivers support a law banning texting or emailing while driving, less than half expressed support for a total phone ban for drivers of all ages. Bans of only hand-held phones for all drivers were viewed more favorably.

The report comes after the Governors Highway Safety Association last year called on all states to ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones in an effort to curb distracted driving. The National Transportation Safety Board has called for a nationwide ban on drivers’ non-emergency use of any electronic devices, including hands-free phones.

A transportation bill approved last year by Congress offers states financial incentives for enacting laws cracking down on distracted driving, such as banning texting while driving and prohibiting cellphone use by drivers under age 18.

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