The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is out with the debut edition of its new monthly online auto safety newsletter and its first topic is distracted driving. That is a timely topic since April is designated as Distrated Driving Awareness month.
According to the 2012 Distracted Drivers Attitude and Behavior Survey and two other polls, at any given moment more than 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while behind the wheel. That is 5 percent of all motorists on the road.
If all types of electronic devices - hand-held and hands free - are factored in, the number rises to 1.18 million.
Survey results published in "Safety 1n Num3ers" newsletter found that 3,300 people were killed and 387,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011. The survey defined a distracted driver as anybody behind the wheel who was engaged in any activity that diverted a driver's attention from the primary task of driving.
"Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America's roadways," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "There is no way to text and drive safely. Powering down your cell phone when you're behind the wheel can save lives, maybe even your own."
A majority drivers see distracted driving as risky when other drivers engage in behaviors such as using hand-held cell phones or texting. Yet nearly half of survey respondents say they answer incoming calls while driving and one-quarter place calls.
Given that there are 210 million licensed drivers in the United States, at any given moment 102 million are answering calls and 50 million are placing calls while driving. Another 14 percent said they send or read text messages while driving, a task that involves visual, manual and cognitive abilities which are necessary for safe driving.
"Many drivers see distracted drivng as risky when other drivers do it, but do not recognize how their own driving deteriorates," said NHTSA Administrador David Strickland.
The polls found that 74 percent of drivers support bans on hand-held cell phones and 94 percent believed that texting while driving should be banned. They also thought fines for such behaviors should be at least $200.
Currently 39 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto RIco, Guam and the Virgin Islands ban texting for all drivers. An additional 10 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibt drivers from using hand-held cell phones.
For more on this survey see NHTSA's report.