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Self-deception behind the wheel

Aug. 2, 2011
Insurance giant Allstate Corp. recently conducted a representative survey adult motorists in the U.S. and came up some findings that won’t surprise truckers in the least – the biggest being that while the average motorist is quick to tout their prowess ...

Insurance giant Allstate Corp. recently conducted a representative survey adult motorists in the U.S. and came up some findings that won’t surprise truckers in the least – the biggest being that while the average motorist is quick to tout their prowess behind the wheel skills, they are very s-l-o-w to actually practice responsible driving.

The survey – conducted by Financial Dynamics for Allstate – polled 1,000 American adults July 13, 14, 16 and 17 via landline and cell phone and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%. Of the 1,000 adults, the survey identified 848 drivers who hold a license and drive at least occasionally.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of American drivers polled for Allstate rate themselves as "excellent" or "very good" drivers – a positive “self-rating” more than twice as high as the rating they give to their own close friends (29% "excellent" or "very good") and also other people their age (22%).

Drivers also don't think much of the driving ability of people from the states surrounding where they live, with 53% of them rating drivers in neighboring states as "average" or "poor," while just 8% rate those drivers as "excellent" or "very good."

Others who American drivers rated lower than themselves include:

• Teenage drivers, who rate the lowest rating of all groups, with 81% of those surveyed marking teenagers as "average" or "poor" drivers.

• Senior citizens, with 7 in 10 American drivers giving seniors comparatively low scores.

• Parents with very young children in the car also get mediocre scores from the American driving public, with those polled rating just 26% of this group as "excellent" or "good," while 33% rate them as "average" or "poor."

Yet here’s where the “self-deception” starts to creep in: even among those American drivers in this poll who have their own very young children are critical of their peers and rate themselves more than twice as high as "excellent" or "good" drivers (64%) than they rate their fellow parents (29%).

Among all drivers surveyed, men are more likely to rate themselves as "excellent" than women (36% versus 26%), as are college-educated drivers (35%) compared to those with no degree (28%).

Yet despite this massive confidence in their abilities, many American drivers fully admit to practicing dangerous behaviors on the road, according to Allstate’s survey, with 89% saying they've driven faster than the posted speed limit, with 40% admitting to driving more than 20 miles per hour over the limit.

[Men, by the way, are more likely to speed than women, Allstate’s poll found: 48% versus 30%.]

The “bad habits” don’t stop there, however, with almost half of those surveyed (45%) admitting to driving while excessively tired – to the point of almost falling asleep. Another 15% copped to driving while intoxicated, with men almost four times more likely than women to have done so (23% of men versus 6%).

More than one-third (34%) say they’ve sent a text-message or email while driving, but the prevalence of the practice changes by age group, Allstate found. Those 18 to 29 years of age are the most likely to text while driving (63%) with drivers ages 30 to 44 not far behind (58%).

Texting while driving, though, decreases with older age groups: only 25% of those aged 45 to 54 admitted to doing it, falling to 6% of those 55 to 64, and just 2% of those over 65.

Here’s the fallout from those decisions: The American drivers in this survey admit that such poor habits caused dangerous situations to develop for them and others while operating on the roadways:

• Seven in 10 American drivers say that as a result of being distracted while driving, they have slammed their brakes or swerved to avoid an accident, missed a traffic signal, or actually caused an accident.

• About 53% report having received a speeding ticket or other moving violation. Among these drivers, 44% say they have received three or more. More men say they have received a ticket than women (61% vs. 46%), and those who have received tickets get more of them (an average of 4.3 per man compared to 2.6 per woman).

• About 56% of American drivers say they have been involved in an accident, but only 28% of them say the accident was their own fault.

And finally, the trucking question: how do they rate their feelings about driving around tractor-trailers in comparison with other “stressful” situations on the road, such as traffic congestion, snow and heavy rain, or driving through tunnels? In short, driving around trucks creates a lot of “stress,” so they say.

While nearly two-thirds (64%) of American drivers say that driving in the snow, heavy rain or other bad weather is stressful and uncomfortable, 56% report the same feeling about driving in heavy traffic, while 41% say that driving behind or near large trucks is stressful and uncomfortable.

By contrast, driving at night (making 29% stressful and uncomfortable), driving over a long bridge (17%), driving through a tunnel (13%), and driving on the highway (16%) all rate lower on the stress scale.

It’s quite something, isn’t it, to see drivers “self-rate” themselves so high while dinging their fellow motorists and copping to dangerous behaviors all in the same survey. It also means that, even if these findings are only moderately representative of the American motorist today, the roadways are a lot more unsafe than we may realize.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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