It’s no secret that being distracted behind the wheel greatly increases your chances of being in an accident. However, despite knowing the risks of doing so, recent polls show that New Jersey drivers continue to engage in distracting behavior.
The series of public health polls was conducted by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. The questions were modeled after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Phone Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behavior from 2011 and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey from 2011-2012.
The polls uncovered a disconnect between how New Jersey residents feel as passengers and how drivers act behind the wheel. As passengers, the vast majority of respondents thought that reading a book, reading a newspaper, using a tablet, reading emails, and reading text messages were all very unsafe activities, according to NewJerseyNewsroom.com. Nearly 60 percent of respondents thought it was unsafe for drivers to talk on a handheld cell phone while they were in the car, but the number dropped to 35 percent when dealing with a hands-free device.
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“New Jerseyans are right to be concerned about these behaviors,” said Marian Passannante, an epidemiologist and professor at NJMS and SPH. “According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the risk of a crash or near-crash among newly licensed drivers increases if they are dialing or reaching for a cell phone, sending or receiving text messages, or eating.”
In fact, more than 3,300 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and another 421,000 people were injured in distraction-related crashes. The most common types of distractions are:
- Talking on a cell phone
- Sending or reading emails
- Tuning a radio or CD player
- Applying makeup
- Talking to other passengers
- Tending to children or pets
- Eating and drinking
New Jersey passengers understand the risk of driving distracted—but drivers may be another story. When asked about their behavior as drivers, respondents admitted to many of the same activities that made them uncomfortable as passengers. Some admitted to texting and emailing while driving, and 5 percent admitted to nodding off behind the wheel in the last month.
However, it is nearly impossible to judge the frequency of distracted driving in a self-reporting poll like this one.
“The reality is that people will underreport behaviors they know to be undesirable,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECIP). “In particular, we suspect self-reporting of the most dangerous behaviors, like falling asleep or even texting and reading email, understates the truth. As passengers, New Jerseyans see the risk. As drivers, they don’t want to admit to taking those risks.”
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A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that, of all those who report feeling less safe on the road today compared to five years ago, nearly half attribute their concerns to the rise in distracted driving. The same study found that over 80 percent of drivers think distracted driving is a serious problem and that it makes them feel unsafe on the road. In order to feel more safe on New Jersey roads, it’s important for everyone to commit their full attention to driving and try to minimize distractions as much as possible.