(PRNewswire) – All over the country, grills are heating, drinks cooling and long-ago-planned vacations are fast approaching. For those reading these annual touchstones like so many iced tea leaves, all signs point to summer – even if its official start date isn’t until June 21.
While summer brings with it many things to celebrate, it's a time to be on alert as well. All those summer road trips add up to a whole lot of cars on the road. Couple that with summer being the most dangerous time of year for teen car accidents, and you realize the importance of keeping both eyes on the road. So how are Americans doing? When it comes to knowing what behaviors are dangerous behind the wheel, Americans have most of their facts straight. When it comes to actually avoiding those behaviors though, a clear disconnect continues to exist between the dangers Americans acknowledge and what they do anyway.
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,045 adults surveyed online between May 27 and 29, 2014. (Full findings, including data tables, available here)
Eyes wide open
Nearly all Americans believe driving after having three or more drinks (94 percent) is dangerous or very dangerous, while two-thirds say the same of getting behind the wheel after 1-2 drinks (68 percent). More than nine in ten Americans believe sending (94 percent) and reading (91 percent) texts while driving is dangerous or very dangerous, though in a separate line of questioning, Americans are split on whether it's OK to check texts while stopped at a red light (with 51 percent agreeing and 49 percent disagreeing).
Seven in ten (69 percent) perceive talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving as dangerous; far fewer (36 percent) say the same of having a hands-free cell phone conversation while driving, though many studies have refuted the idea that this is any safer than holding a phone while gabbing behind the wheel.
But of course, knowing something is dangerous doesn't necessarily mean avoiding it. Despite majorities knowing that talking on a cell phone is dangerous, three-fourths of drivers with cell phones say they ever do so (74 percent), with two in ten (21 percent) saying they do so frequently.
Additionally, strong minorities say they ever read text messages (45 percent; 15 percent frequently) or send text messages (37 percent; 14 percent frequently). Among those with smartphones or tablets, over one-third ever use such devices to look things up while driving (36 percent; 12 percent frequently).
• More troubling still, these habits are especially common among Millennials. Roughly one-fourth of drivers with cell phones from this generation frequently talk on a cell phone (28 percent), read text messages (27 percent) and send texts (24 percent) while driving.
Americans copped to other distracted driving behaviors as well, including just over one in four who admit to ever engaging in personal grooming while driving (27 percent), 24 percent who say they've posted to social media, 19% who've read a book, magazine or newspaper and 13 percent who have watched a video on a smartphone or tablet while behind the wheel.
And despite the vast majority of Americans saying driving after drinking is dangerous, 37 percent of those who drink alcohol say they've driven at a time when they'd likely had too much to drink and three in 10 (30 percent) agree that they are more likely to get behind the wheel after a few drinks if they only have to drive a short distance.
Along for the Ride
Americans are also failing to apply their perceptions of dangerous behavior to their ride-along habits, as majorities say they're ever passengers in a car with a driver who is talking on a cell phone (63 percent hands-free, 62 percent holding), with four in ten saying they do so often or sometimes
(41percent hands-free, 39 percent holding).
Over four in ten Americans ever ride with a driver who’s reading (45 percent) or sending (41 percent) text messages, with roughly one-fourth saying they often or sometimes do so (26 percent reading, 23 percent sending).
• This is again an especially troubling trend among Millennials, with a majority saying they often or sometimes ride with a driver who's talking on a cell phone they are holding (55 percent), and over four in ten often or sometimes riding with a driver who is talking on a hands-free phone (44 percent), reading texts (45 percent) or sending texts (41 percent)
Smaller but still alarming percentages report that they ever ride with a driver who's using a smartphone or tablet to look something up (36 percent; 19 percent often/sometimes), who has been drinking (28 percent; 10 percent often/sometimes) or who is checking or posting to social media (24 percent; 13 percent often/sometimes).
But beyond watching a driver's behavior in order to protect themselves, should passengers have a responsibility to monitor their drivers from a legal standpoint? Majorities of Americans appear to think not. Seven in ten (69 percent) don't believe that passengers in a car should share legal responsibility if a distracted driver causes an accident, while six in ten (59 percent) say the same in the case of passengers riding with a drunk driver.