WEDNESDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Whether it's talking on
cellphones, fiddling with food and drink or doing some last-minute
grooming, a large majority of adult drivers in the United States
admit to being dangerously distracted while behind the wheel, a new
According to the new
Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll, most adults who drive on a
regular basis admitted to having at some point engaged in
distracting behaviors, be it eating/drinking (86 percent), talking
on a non-hands-free cellphone (59 percent), setting their GPS
device (41 percent), texting (37 percent) or applying makeup (14
Large minorities of drivers also admitted to driving while less
than fully alert. For example, a quarter of respondents said they
have driven after having two or more drinks, and 44 percent said
they've felt sleepy while driving, "sometimes even momentarily
dozing off." Smaller percentages (7 and 12 percent, respectively)
said they drive this way "sometimes or often."
"The number of drivers who engage in potentially dangerous, in some cases extremely dangerous, behaviors while driving is terrifyingly high, particularly when you remember that every 1 percent of drivers polled represents more than one-and-three-quarters of a million people," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll.
"While we have some information on how dangerous some of these behaviors are (driving after drinking, talking on cellphones, falling asleep, texting) we can only speculate as to the numbers of accidents and deaths that are caused by the many millions of people who drive while setting their GPS, eating or drinking, surfing the Internet, watching videos, combing their hair, reading or applying makeup," added Taylor.
Prior research has examined the dangers of distracted driving,
with one 2010 study finding that texting alone was implicated in
more than 16,000 deaths from 2001 to 2007. The study, published in
American Journal of Public Health, also found that auto deaths involving cell phones and texting while driving rose 28 percent between 2005 and 2008.
According to the new online poll, which surveyed more than 2,800
U.S. adults between Nov. 10 to 14, distracted driving isn't just
limited to cellphone use. Other major distractions include:
Certain drivers were more apt to indulge in risky distractions
than others, the poll found. For example, drivers over the age of
65 were less likely than their younger counterparts to engage in
distracting behaviors. And when it came to gender, men were more
likely than women to drive while drowsy, consult a GPS navigation
system, look at maps, drive after drinking alcohol, surf the 'Net
or watch videos.
The survey also turned up a puzzling disconnect: While big
percentages of drivers agree that distracting behaviors are
dangerous, many still engage in them.
For example, 77 percent thought that texting increases the odds
of a car accident "a lot." Forty-four percent thought the same
about talking on a (non-hands-free) cellphone, and two-thirds
thought it was dangerous to apply makeup while driving.
One highway safety expert called the poll findings
"Despite all of the attention paid to cell phone distractions in the past few years, this survey highlights the broader problem that drivers do a lot of things behind the wheel that distract them," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. "People have driven distracted long before there were cellphones."
Some 39 states plus the District of Columbia have already
enacted laws regulating the use of mobile devices in vehicles. But
a recent study published in the
American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that use of
cellphones and other distractions while driving has actually risen
over time, despite these efforts.
While technology has helped create new driving hazards, it might
also be a means of minimizing the risk, too, Rader said. He pointed
to "crash-avoidance technologies" that automakers are installing on
vehicles. These on-board devices can sense a hazard ahead, such as
the driver in front of you suddenly slamming on the brakes.
"New laws are not likely the answer," Rader said. "This survey points to the potential for technology to help bring drivers' attention back to the road at critical moments, no matter what is distracting them, whether they're reaching for a cup of coffee, trying to send a text message or just daydreaming."
Find out more on the perils of distracted driving at the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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