Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been conducting studies on
public attitudes and behaviors about driving since the early 1990’s. Over the years, studies have included
attitudes and behaviors about speeding and unsafe (or aggressive) driving,
distracted driving, drinking and driving and other behaviors. The studies generally aim at determining how
the driving public perceives the seriousness of the problem and what
countermeasures the public will accept to control these problems. They have also helped shape enforcement
practices, such as Washington State’s Target Zero program..
Over the years,
these studies have revealed some interesting information. For example, while a majority of drivers
admit to speeding, they also think other drivers’ speeding is a major threat to
their personal safety. This sense seems to increase with age, from just 48
percent of drivers age 16-20 believing speeding by others is a threat, to 86
percent of those ages 65 or older. Over 75% of drivers feel it is of some
importance that something be done to reduce speeding – that is, other people’s
speeding evidently. They are likely right.
In the US, one in every six drivers will get a speeding ticket thisyear. That is over 41 million tickets
per year and it means over 100,000 people a day get a speeding ticket;.
Driving is another area touched on in studies – failing to stop on a yellow
light, rolling stop signs, cutting in front of other drivers and various
gestures and comments – and while this is less prevalent than speeding, drivers
seem to feel that aggressive behavior on the road is increasing. Almost all drivers report feeling that when
other drivers run red lights, it is a threat to themselves and their
family. Other major perceived threats
are rolling stop signs and weaving in traffic.
speeding is viewed as the most common unsafe driving behavior drivers, there
seems to be a belief that there is lax enforcement of other unsafe driving
behaviors. Only 41 percent of drivers reported too little enforcement for
speeding, while 60 percent believe there is too little enforcement for
tailgating. Younger drivers more
frequently believe there is too much enforcement of most unsafe driving
behaviors – especially speeding.
A majority of
drivers think photo enforcement is a good idea in at least some
situations. There is substantial support
for photo enforcement to identify drivers passing a school bus, speeding in a
school zone and running red lights. .
In the traffic
safety attitudes arena, seat belt use increased from 59% to 75% between 1991
and 2002 and by 2011 reached 85% nationally.
The science of safety belts is pretty well known now and it is clear
that seat belts significantly reduce fatalities; up to 45% in passenger cars
and 60% in light trucks. Among other
things, seat belts help prevent you from being thrown from a vehicle, and you
are 800 times more likely to be killed in an accident when you are
ejected. The National Highway
Transportation and Safety Administration estimates that every percentage point
increase in seat belt use represents 2.8 million more Americans buckling up -
265 additional lives saved and 4,600 serious injuries prevented. WashingtonState has maintained a rate of over 95% safety belt use since 2005 – one of the
highest rates in that nation. This has
likely had a positive effect on Washington auto insurance rates.
distracted driving has hit the headlines as a major problem. NHTSA has been tracking this since at least
2003. In their 2011 survey, cell phone
usage was still very high with 80% of males and 73% of females indicating they
would at least answer an incoming call and near 40% indicating they would place
a call while driving. The numbers were
lower for texting, but were still over 40% for the age groups 18 – 24.
respondents – about 85% – considered a driver who was sending a text message or
email or reading e-mails or text messages as very unsafe and this perception
increased with age from 62% in the youngest age group to 96% for adults 65 and
older. Far fewer drivers felt their own
performance was diminished when using a handheld phone, texting or
emailing. Over 70% of survey respondents
supported bans on handheld cell phone use and even more (94%) support a ban on
texting while driving. A large majority
support fines for handheld cell phone use or texting.
This sort of data
helps shape individual states approach to traffic enforcement methods and
priorities. In the next installment in
this series, we will look at Washington State’s priorities through the Target