Most Drivers With Cell Phones Use Them While Driving Even Though They Know It Is Unsafe; More Than One In Five Text While Driving

NEW YORK, N.Y. – July 20, 2011 – Three out of five (60%) drivers with cell phones use them while driving even though almost all adults (91%) know it is unsafe to do so. This is particularly common among younger drivers with cell phones. In addition more than one in five (22%) drivers with cell phones send or read text messages while driving. However the percentage of drivers with cell phones who use them while driving has fallen over the last two years, from 72% in 2009 to 60% now. And, the numbers who text while driving has fallen a little from 27% to 22%.

Several studies have shown that drivers who use cell phones while driving are much more likely to be involved with accidents, and it is believed that texting is even more dangerous. Recent research has shown that both hand held and hands-free cell phones are almost equally dangerous because they are equally likely to distract drivers. However, more than three quarters (77%) of the public believe that hands-free phones are safer.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,163 adults surveyed online between June 13 and 20, 2011.

Other interesting findings of this survey include:

  • There are big generational differences. The younger age groups, Echo Boomers, aged 18-34 (72%) and Gen Xers, aged 35-46 (69%) are more likely to use cell phones while driving than Baby Boomers, aged 47-65 (59%), and much more likely than drivers over 65 (32%) to do so;
  • The Lake Wobegon effect (where all the children are above average) is alive and well. Most (57%) drivers rate themselves as better than average drivers. Only 1% rate themselves as worse than average. Men (66%) are much more likely than women (48%) to think that they are better than average drivers;
  • Texting while driving is also much more common among younger drivers. Fully 49% of drivers with cell phones under 35 send or read text messages while driving compared to only 24% of Gen X, 11% of Baby Boomers and less than 1% of people over 65;
  • Most (60%) drivers who use cell phones while driving use hand-held phones. This number has declined from 72% in 2006 and 66% in 2009;
  • The large majority who know that it is dangerous to use a cell phone while driving has increased from 82% in 2006 to 91% now; and
  • The percentage of the public who live in states that require (or, which they believe, require) the use of hands-free phones has increased from 14% in 2006 to 38% now.
So What?

The implications of these findings point to several important conclusions:

Most drivers with cell phones are behaving in ways (talking on cell phones and/or reading or sending texts) that greatly increase the likelihood that they will be involved in accidents, and injure themselves and others. Furthermore, many of them believe, probably wrongly, that if they use hands-free phones they are safer. The problem may be made worse by the fact that most drivers think they are better than average drivers and, perhaps, that their driving skills can keep them out of trouble.

These findings strongly suggest the need for laws to ban all cell phone use and texting while driving, including the use of hands-free phones, except perhaps in emergencies.

TABLE 1A

FREQUENCY OF TALKING ON CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING – TREND SINCE 2006

How often do you talk on a cell phone while you are driving?

Base: Adults who drive and have a cell phone

2006

May 2009

June 2011

%

%

%

Talk on Cell Phone While Driving (NET)

73

72

60

All the time

6

10

5

Sometimes

67

62

55

Never

27

28

40

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

TABLE 1B

FREQUENCY OF TALKING ON CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING- BY AGE AND ABILITY

How often do you talk on a cell phone while you are driving?

Base: Adults who drive and have a cell phone

Total

Generation

Type of driver

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen. X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

Better than average

Average

Worse than average

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Talk on Cell Phone While Driving (NET)

60

72

69

59

32

62

59

38

All the time

5

11

6

3

7

3

4

Sometimes

55

61

64

56

31

55

56

34

Never

40

28

31

41

68

38

41

62

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding; signifies less than .05%

TABLE 2

FREQUENCY OF SENDING OR RECEIVING TEXT MESSAGES ON CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING

How often do you send or read texts on a cell phone while you are driving?

Base: Those who drive and have a cell phone

May 2009

June 2011

Generation

Type of driver

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen. X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

Better than average

Average

Worse than average

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

All the time

5

2

7

1

2

2

4

Sometimes

22

20

42

23

11

20

19

20

Never

74

78

51

76

89

100

78

79

76

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding; signifies less than .05%

TABLE 3

HOLD CELL PHONE OR USE HANDS-FREE DEVICE WHILE DRIVING – TREND

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

Base: Adults who ever talk on a cell phone while driving

2006

May 2009

June 2011

%

%

%

Hold phone

72

66

60

Hands-free device

28

34

40

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

TABLE 4

FREQUENCY OF BEING PASSENGER WHILE DRIVER IS TALKING ON CELL PHONE – TREND

How often are you a passenger in a car while the driver is talking on a cell phone?

Base: All adults

2006

May 2009

June 2011

%

%

%

Often

5

8

5

Sometimes

55

59

49

Never

39

31

43

Not Sure

1

2

2

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

TABLE 5

LIVE IN CITY OR STATE THAT HAS LAW REQUIRING USE OF HANDS-FREE DEVICE – TREND

Do you currently live in a city or state that has a law requiring that you use a hands-free device while talking on a cell phone in your car or not?

Base: All adults

2006

May 2009

June 2011

%

%

%

My state requires a hands-free device

if I am on my cell phone and driving

14

32

38

My state does not currently have such a law

61

49

39

Not sure

25

19

23

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

TABLE 6

DANGEROUS TO USE CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING – TREND

How dangerous is it for a driver to use a cell phone while driving?

Base: All adults

2006

May 2009

June 2011

%

%

%

Dangerous (NET)

82

88

91

Very dangerous

31

42

46

Dangerous

25

22

26

Somewhat Dangerous

26

24

19

Only Slightly or Not Dangerous (NET)

18

12

9

Slightly dangerous

16

11

8

Not dangerous at all

2

1

1

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

TABLE 7

HANDS-FREE PHONE IS SAFER – TREND

Is using a hands-free cell phone safer or more dangerous than using a hand-held cell phone? A hands-free cell phone is…

Base: All adults

2006

May 2009

June 2011

%

%

%

Safer (NET)

70

71

77

Much safer

13

19

14

Somewhat safer

57

52

63

Just as safe

22

20

17

More dangerous (NET)

8

9

6

Somewhat more dangerous

6

7

5

Much more dangerous

2

2

2

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

TABLE 8

RATING YOUR OWN DRIVING ABILITY

On another subject, would you rate yourself as a better than average driver, or a worse than average driver?

Base: All adults who drive a vehicle

Total

Gender

Generation

Male

Female

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen. X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Better than average

57

66

48

51

51

67

50

Average

42

33

51

48

48

32

48

Worse than average

1

1

1

1

1

1

2

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

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 13 to 20, 2011 among 2,163 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, Harris Interactive 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 Interactive 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 the Harris Interactive 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 Harris Interactive.

J40315

Q905, 910, 913, 915, 920, 925, 930, 935, 940

The Harris Poll® #84, July 20, 2011

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll