A Nationwide Insurance survey shows 20 percent of drivers with cell phones say they text while driving. That number jumps to 47 percent for drivers under the age of 35. But of those who admit to texting behind the wheel, 40 percent say they do it less often than they did last year.
"This is the first survey we've seen showing drivers making positive changes in their behavior, but there are still too many drivers who either don't realize just how dangerous distractions behind the wheel are, or are willing to take that risk," says Bill Windsor, Nationwide's associate vice president of Consumer Safety. "The stigma now associated with distracted driving may also have fewer people willing to admit they do it, but studies continue to indicate that DWD causes one out of every four U.S. crashes."
According to the telephone survey of 1,005 U.S. adults conducted by Harris Interactive, 67 percent of drivers admit to talking on their cell phone while driving. Of those who do, 30 percent say they do it less often than they did last year.
While the problem of driving while distracted remains one of the deadliest risks facing drivers, this survey shows that drivers are changing their behavior due to awareness and legislation.
While drivers report they are talking and texting less frequently, the percentage of people who say they do it hasn't changed. Nationwide's first DWD survey (conducted in 2007 by MarketVision using different methodology) showed 73 percent of drivers said they talked on a cell phone while driving and 19 percent admitted to texting while driving.
About one in four (24 percent) U.S. cell phone users have a touch screen cell phone and 40 percent of them say it makes texting and dialing easier, and 23 percent say it makes it more difficult. But those who own touch screen cell phones are also more likely to talk and text while driving.
While hands-free technology is readily available, two-thirds (65 percent) of drivers who admit to talking on cell phones while driving say they rarely or never use the devices. Some regional differences are noted, including nearly half (48 percent) of those in the West who say they use hands-free all the time or often. This is perhaps due to state laws prohibiting cell phone use without a hands-free device.
According to the survey, two-thirds (66 percent) of drivers who do use a hands-free device report feeling safer when doing so, although nearly one-in-four (24 percent) of these drivers say they talk more often since they started using the hands-free device.
"This survey shows that it is likely that when handheld cell phone laws are passed that a number of people will switch to hands-free devices and their usage of the phones will actually go up," said Windsor. "More research needs to be done on the extent of crash risk related to the cognitive distraction aspect of cell phone use. We need to be sure that for this segment of heavy users it does not actually result in increased crashes."
Phones, of course, aren't the only in-cab distraction. According to the survey, 18 percent of drivers have programmed a GPS device while driving. Only 29 percent said they eat or drink while driving, only 19 percent look for stations on the radio, 6 percent smoke while driving, 3 percent said they put on makeup and 2 percent admitted they read while driving.