April is Distracted Driving Awareness month and it's a topic that will be in the news quite a bit over the next 30 days, and for good reason.
Distracted driving is the top concern of motorists, worse than other risky behaviors such as aggressive driving, drunken driving and drivers who are high on drugs, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's 2017 Traffic Safety Culture Index released Thursday. It even outpaced the concern over congestion.
Nearly 88 percent of motorists say distracted driving is worse than it was three years ago. More than 58 percent say drivers talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel is a serious threat to their personal safety and 78 percent believe that texting is a significant danger.
But drivers' behaviors don't match their talk. Nearly half of drivers admit to talking on a hands-held cellphone while motoring and 35 percent say the have sent a text or email message, the survey found.
"There is a disconnect between what drivers do and what they believe," said Jake Nelson, the foundation's director of traffic safety advocacy and research. "While most recognize the dangers created by taking your eyes off the road, they engage in distracting behaviors anyway, creating a 'do as I say, not as I do' culture on the roadway."
A previous study found that drivers who talk on a cellphone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash and those who text and drive are eight times more likely to be involved in a wreck.
As more and more people get smartphones, drivers say they have noticed more motorists using them while behind the wheel. More than half of survey respondents report that they regularly see other motorists emailing or texting. Despite identifying those behaviors as a threat to their safety, 44.9 percent of drivers read a text or email while driving. And 34.6 percent were guilty of tapping out and sending a message, the survey said.
As researchers continue to look for hard evidence that links traffic crashes to cellphones, just about every week there are accounts of deadly crashes involving drivers who likely were on their phones. Just last month a semitrailer truck driver was allegedly texting when he plowed into a car stopped at a red light on Hwy. 36. The impact killed the other driver and the semi driver was charged in connection with the Feb. 27 wreck at Lake Elmo Avenue that killed Robert Bursik.
Those types of incidents are why many are pushing for Minnesota to pass a law that would prohibit drivers from talking on a hands-held cellphone while behind the wheel. A bill outlawing the practice is currently being debated at the capitol.
An overwhelming majority of drivers appear to support some legislation. More than 73 percent favor laws against using a hand-held cellphone while driving. But only 41 percent support an all-out ban on using any type of cellphone, including the hands free variety.