Trucks at Work

Risk of death doesn’t seem to faze today's drivers

If the latest research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is to be believed, the higher chance of death or injury while piloting motor vehicles isn’t preventing today’s drivers from engaging in risky behavior, such as texting while driving, speeding, and running red lights.

Then again, after hearing about the rampant occurrence of such unsafe behavior out U.S. roadways from my conversations with truck drivers over the years, AA Foundation’s findings don’t surprise me all that much.

“Too many Americans report that they regularly speed, run red lights, use distracting devices or drive drowsy, despite the fact that one in three have a loved one who has been seriously injured or killed in a crash,” noted Beth Mosher, spokesperson for AAA Chicago, said in a statement accompanying the group’s latest Traffic Safety Culture Index report.

“The results further find that unsafe behaviors persist even though one in five drivers have themselves been involved in a serious crash, and one in ten has been seriously injured in a crash,” she added.

Here are some other findings from AAA Foundation’s latest “traffic culture” survey:

  • Red light running: More than a third (36%) of drivers admit to running red lights, yet 55% say it is a very serious threat and 73% say it is completely unacceptable.
  • Speeding (10+ mph over the posted limit) on residential streets: Nearly half of the drivers polled said they (44%), yet 65% say it is completely unacceptable.
  • Drowsy driving: About 3 in 10 drivers (29 percent) admitted to drowsy driving, yet 45 percent say it is a very serious threat and 81 percent say it is completely unacceptable.
  • Texting/emailing: More than a quarter (27%) of drivers report typing or sending a text or email while driving, yet 79% of them say it is a very serious threat to safety and 84% say it is completely unacceptable.

When it comes to specific distracted driving behaviors in the past 30 days, here’s what AAA Foundation said drivers in its poll admit to:

  • Two in three drivers reported talking on their cell phone
  • One in three drivers reported talking on their cell phone often
  • One in the drivers admit to reading a text message or email

The group added that its findings also offer insight about driver attitudes related to “cognitive distraction” when operating motor vehicles.

Two out of three drivers told AAA Foundation they believe hands-free phone use is acceptable, and nearly half (46%) of drivers who report using speech-based in-vehicle systems say they do not believe these systems are at all distracting.

Yet that’s despite extensive research indicating that hands-free devices can lead directly to cognitive distraction, AAA Chicago’s Mosher noted.

“It is very disappointing that we continue to see a prevailing attitude of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ where large numbers of motorists seem to recognize the risks of certain behaviors but do them anyway,” she stressed. “Enhancing the safety culture in society must begin with each individual.”

She makes a good point. Truck drivers, of course, deal with an ever-growing mountain of regulations implemented as a way to insure they operate their equipment safely – especially where the ban on cell phone use while operating commercial vehicles is concerned.

Yet that isn’t the case for all motorists – which is too bad, as they trigger the bulk of highway crashes between light vehicles and heavy trucks.

Maybe it’s time the federal transportation regulatory machine switches gears to focus more on motorists instead.

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