From Talking to Texting, Americans Fess Up to Dangerous Driving Behaviors Despite Recognizing that They’re Unsafe

NEW YORK , N.Y. – June 19, 2014 – All over the country, grills are heating, drinks cooling and long-ago-planned vacations are fast approaching. For those reading these annual touchstones like so many iced tea leaves, all signs point to summer – even if its official start date isn’t until June 21.

While summer brings with it many things to celebrate, it’s a time to be on alert as well. All those summer road trips add up to a whole lot of cars on the road. Couple that with summer being the most dangerous time of year for teen car accidents, and you realize the importance of keeping both eyes on the road. So how are Americans doing? When it comes to knowing what behaviors are dangerous behind the wheel, Americans have most of their facts straight. When it comes to actually avoiding those behaviors though, a clear disconnect continues to exist between the dangers Americans acknowledge and what they do anyway.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,045 adults surveyed online between May 27 and 29, 2014.

Eyes wide open

Nearly all Americans believe driving after having three or more drinks (94%) is dangerous or very dangerous, while two-thirds say the same of getting behind the wheel after 1-2 drinks (68%). More than nine in ten Americans believe sending (94%) and reading (91%) texts while driving is dangerous or very dangerous, though in a separate line of questioning, Americans are split on whether it’s OK to check texts while stopped at a red light (with 51% agreeing and 49% disagreeing).

Seven in ten (69%) perceive talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving as dangerous; far fewer (36%) say the same of having a hands-free cell phone conversation while driving, though many studies have refuted the idea that this is any safer than holding a phone while gabbing behind the wheel.

Risky business

But of course, knowing something is dangerous doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding it. Despite majorities knowing that talking on a cell phone is dangerous, three-fourths of drivers with cell phones say they ever do so (74%), with two in ten (21%) saying they do so frequently. Additionally, strong minorities say they ever read text messages (45%; 15% frequently) or send text messages (37%; 14% frequently). Among those with smartphones or tablets, over one-third ever use such devices to look things up while driving (36%; 12% frequently).

  • More troubling still, these habits are especially common among Millennials. Roughly one-fourth of drivers with cell phones from this generation frequently talk on a cell phone (28%), read text messages (27%) and send texts (24%) while driving.

Americans copped to other distracted driving behaviors as well, including just over one in four who admit to ever engaging in personal grooming while driving (27%), 24% who say they’ve posted to social media, 19% who’ve read a book, magazine or newspaper and 13% who have watched a video on a smartphone or tablet while behind the wheel.

And despite the vast majority of Americans saying driving after drinking is dangerous, 37% of those who drink alcohol say they’ve driven at a time when they’d likely had too much to drink and three in 10 (30%) agree that they are more likely to get behind the wheel after a few drinks if they only have to drive a short distance.

Along for the ride

Americans are also failing to apply their perceptions of dangerous behavior to their ride-along habits, as majorities say they’re ever passengers in a car with a driver who is talking on a cell phone (63% hands-free, 62% holding), with four in ten saying they do so often or sometimes (41% hands-free, 39% holding).

Over four in ten Americans ever ride with a driver who’s reading (45%) or sending (41%) text messages, with roughly one-fourth saying they often or sometimes do so (26% reading, 23% sending).

  • This is again an especially troubling trend among Millennials, with a majority saying they often or sometimes ride with a driver who’s talking on a cell phone they are holding (55%), and over four in ten often or sometimes riding with a driver who is talking on a hands-free phone (44%), reading texts (45%) or sending texts (41%)

Smaller but still alarming percentages report that they ever ride with a driver who’s using a smartphone or tablet to look something up (36%; 19% often/sometimes), who has been drinking (28%; 10% often/sometimes) or who is checking or posting to social media (24%; 13% often/sometimes).

But beyond watching a driver’s behavior in order to protect themselves, should passengers have a responsibility to monitor their drivers from a legal standpoint? Majorities of Americans appear to think not. Seven in ten (69%) don’t believe that passengers in a car should share legal responsibility if a distracted driver causes an accident, while six in ten (59%) say the same in the case of passengers riding with a drunk driver.

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TABLE 1

ACTIVITIES WHILE DRIVING

How often do you do each of the following while you are driving?

Base: U.S. adults who drive; other criteria apply to some activities

Total

Generation

Perceived as Dangerous/Very Dangerous to Do While Driving

Millennials (18-36)

Gen Xers (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

Talking on a cell phone

Reading texts

Sending texts

In hand

Hands free

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Talk on a cell phone Ever (Net)

74

85

79

70

52

64

54

72

73

Frequently

21

28

25

17

3

19

16

20

20

Read text messages Ever (Net)

45

72

52

31

9

39

34

40

43

Frequently

15

27

16

8

2

15

14

14

14

Send text messages Ever (Net)

37

62

42

22

6

33

30

33

34

Frequently

14

24

16

7

2

14

14

13

13

Look something up on a smartphone or tablet Ever (Net)

36

54

38

21

17

34

34

34

35

Frequently

12

21

15

4

1

12

12

12

11

Personal grooming (e.g., shaving, putting on makeup, doing hair) Ever (Net)

27

37

30

21

20

29

28

27

26

Frequently

16

22

16

12

12

18

17

16

15

Check or post to social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) on a smartphone or tablet Ever (Net)

24

40

24

12

9

25

24

23

23

Frequently

11

20

12

3

3

12

12

11

10

Read (e.g., book, magazine, newspaper) Ever (Net)

19

24

24

15

14

22

23

20

19

Frequently

10

11

10

9

10

12

11

10

10

Watch videos on a smartphone, tablet or other device (including one installed in the vehicle) Ever (Net)

13

25

18

5

4

14

15

13

13

Frequently

5

12

7

1

6

4

5

5

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

Own/use a cell phone (any type)

Own/use a smartphone and/or tablet

— indicates no selections for this response


TABLE 2

PHONE IN HAND VS. HANDS FREE

When you use a cell phone while you are driving, do you typically hold the phone in your hand or do you use a hands-free device?

Base: U.S. adults who ever talk on a cell phone while driving

2006 Total

2009 Total

2011 Total

2014 Total

Generation

Perceived as Dangerous/Very Dangerous to Do While Driving

Millennials (18-36)

Gen Xers (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

Talking on a cell phone

Reading texts

Sending texts

In hand

Hands free

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Hold phone

72

66

60

55

57

53

54

54

43

59

54

54

Hands free

28

34

40

45

43

47

46

46

57

41

46

46

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 3a

PASSENGER IN CAR WHILE DRIVER DOES UNSAFE ACTIVITIES

How often are you a passenger in a car with a driver who…?

by Generation

Base: U.S. adults

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-36)

Gen Xers (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

%

%

%

%

%

…is talking on a cell phone, hands-free Ever (Net)

63

68

65

59

53

Often or Sometimes

41

44

46

37

34

…is talking on a cell phone that they’re holding Ever (Net)

62

75

66

56

44

Often or Sometimes

39

55

40

31

14

…is reading text messages Ever (Net)

45

68

46

31

20

Often or Sometimes

26

45

29

14

6

…is sending text messages Ever (Net)

41

65

41

28

16

Often or Sometimes

23

41

25

13

4

…is using a smartphone or tablet to look something up Ever (Net)

36

54

40

24

20

Often or Sometimes

19

32

19

10

7

…has been drinking Ever (Net)

28

30

29

24

26

Often or Sometimes

10

12

14

6

7

…is checking or posting to social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) Ever (Net)

24

43

22

12

11

Often or Sometimes

13

24

13

6

3

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 3b

PASSENGER IN CAR WHILE DRIVER DOES UNSAFE ACTIVITIES

How often are you a passenger in a car with a driver who É?

by Activities Perceived as Dangerous

Base: U.S. adults

Total

Perceived as Dangerous/Very Dangerous to Do While Driving

Talking on a cell phone

Reading texts

Sending texts

Driving after # drinks

In hand

Hands free

1-2

3+

%

%

%

%

%

…is talking on a cell phone, hands-free Ever (Net)

63

60

47

62

63

62

63

Often or Sometimes

41

40

28

41

41

41

42

…is talking on a cell phone that they’re holding Ever (Net)

62

54

49

61

62

62

63

Often or Sometimes

39

31

29

37

38

38

39

…is reading text messages Ever (Net)

45

39

35

42

44

43

45

Often or Sometimes

26

22

21

24

25

26

26

…is sending text messages Ever (Net)

41

36

34

39

40

41

42

Often or Sometimes

23

20

20

21

22

24

23

…is using a smartphone or tablet to look something up Ever (Net)

36

32

30

33

35

34

36

Often or Sometimes

19

17

17

17

18

19

18

…has been drinking Ever (Net)

28

24

24

26

27

20

26

Often or Sometimes

10

9

11

9

9

7

9

…is checking or posting to social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) Ever (Net)

24

22

21

23

23

24

24

Often or Sometimes

13

12

12

12

12

13

12

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 4

PERCEIVED DANGER

In your opinion, how dangerous is each of the following?

by Generation

Base: U.S. adults

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-36)

Gen Xers (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

%

%

%

%

%

Sending text messages while driving Dangerous/Very dangerous

94

87

95

99

100

Slightly dangerous

4

10

3

1

*

Not dangerous at all

1

3

2

*

Driving after having 3 or more drinks Dangerous/Very dangerous

94

94

91

94

96

Slightly dangerous

5

5

6

5

4

Not dangerous at all

1

1

2

*

Reading text messages while driving Dangerous/Very dangerous

91

84

89

96

99

Slightly dangerous

7

13

9

4

1

Not dangerous at all

2

3

2

*

*

Talking on a cell phone (while holding it in your hand) while driving Dangerous/Very dangerous

69

59

68

74

85

Slightly dangerous

28

38

27

24

14

Not dangerous at all

3

3

5

2

1

Driving after having 1-2 drinks Dangerous/Very dangerous

68

67

68

68

75

Slightly dangerous

25

27

23

27

22

Not dangerous at all

6

6

10

5

3

Talking on a cell phone (hands-free) while driving Dangerous/Very dangerous

36

25

34

42

51

Slightly dangerous

46

49

45

45

40

Not dangerous at all

18

26

21

13

8

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

* indicates a response rate of <0.5%

— indicates no selections for this response


TABLE 5a

SAFE DRIVING STATEMENTS

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Summary Grid

Base: All adults

AGREE (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

DISAGREE (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

%

%

%

%

%

%

I think it’s OK to check texts while stopped at a red light.

51

13

38

49

22

28

If a drunk driver causes an accident, any passengers in their car should share legal responsibility.

41

15

26

59

26

33

^I’ve driven at times when I probably had too much to drink.

37

13

23

63

15

49

If a distracted driver (e.g., talking on the phone) causes an accident, any passengers in their car should share legal responsibility.

31

10

21

69

29

40

^I’m more likely to get behind the wheel after a few drinks if I only have to drive a short distance.

30

5

25

70

20

50

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

^ Among those who drink alcohol

TABLE 5b

SAFE DRIVING STATEMENTS – AGREE SUMMARY

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

by Generation

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-36)

Gen Xers (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

%

%

%

%

%

I think it’s OK to check texts while stopped at a red light.

51

64

58

41

32

If a drunk driver causes an accident, any passengers in their car should share legal responsibility.

41

43

38

39

50

^I’ve driven at times when I probably had too much to drink.

37

33

37

40

36

If a distracted driver (e.g., talking on the phone) causes an accident, any passengers in their car should share legal responsibility.

31

30

24

31

44

^I’m more likely to get behind the wheel after a few drinks if I only have to drive a short distance.

30

29

32

30

31

^Among those who drink alcohol


TABLE 5c

SAFE DRIVING STATEMENTS – DISAGREE SUMMARY

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

by Generation

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-36)

Gen Xers (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

%

%

%

%

%

^I’m more likely to get behind the wheel after a few drinks if I only have to drive a short distance.

70

71

68

70

69

If a distracted driver (e.g., talking on the phone) causes an accident, any passengers in their car should share legal responsibility.

69

70

76

69

56

^I’ve driven at times when I probably had too much to drink.

63

67

63

60

64

If a drunk driver causes an accident, any passengers in their car should share legal responsibility.

59

57

62

61

50

I think it’s OK to check texts while stopped at a red light.

49

36

42

59

68

^Among those who drink alcohol

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,234 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll #58, June 19, 2014