Can You Hear Me Now?

Emerging technology may add to drivers' distractions: Already, 8 percent of drivers say they have adjusted a DVD player for passengers while driving, 6 percent say they consulted a global positioning system and 6 percent say they have read or sent a text message while driving.

That's only likely to grow: The youngest drivers, ages 16-20, were far more likely to talk on a cell phone while driving (64 percent compared to 43 percent of all drivers) and even to read or send text messages while driving (32 percent compared to 6 percent of all drivers.)

"The bottom line is that attention is a zero sum game," said Dr. Steven Yantis, a professor at Johns Hopkins University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "If you shift attention from one area of perception, you will pay a price in another. Behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, that price may be extremely high if attention is diverted at the split second that the driving conditions change, for instance, when the driver in front of you hits the brakes."

According to the third annual Drive for Life poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, 94 percent of drivers say they wear a seat belt all or most of the time, and for good reason: Nearly one in four drivers said a seat belt saved their own life or the life of a family member. Nearly one in three drivers said they have had a collision in the past 5 years and one in 10 had a collision in the past year.

But this exemplary behavior by drivers drops dramatically for passengers especially when the driver and passengers are teens. While 76 percent of drivers say passengers traveling with them always wear seat belts, only 43 percent of teen drivers say their passengers always buckle up. And safety-belt usage among teens becomes even more lax with alcohol consumption. In 2003, 74 percent of the young drivers who had been drinking and were killed in crashes were not wearing safety belts.

"Sadly, traffic crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for American children and young adults," said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Jeffrey Runge, M.D. "Parents need to understand the risks and set driving limits that can save their lives."

When Choosing a Car, Safety Still is No. 1

A new poll, third annual Drive for Life poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, shows drivers value safety: Drivers cited safety as the most important feature to them in choosing a vehicle, topping economy, fuel efficiency, seating and cargo space, speed and performance and appearance.

Interestingly, a majority of drivers polled favor retesting drivers. Most (56 percent) think drivers should be retested at least every 10 years, 76 percent support retesting after age 75, 73 percent support retesting after a moving violation resulting in a license suspension or revocation and 41 percent favor retesting after moving from one state to another. Only 24 percent think drivers should never be retested.

In other common safety lapses, the poll found:

  • One in three admit to driving through a red light or driving through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop.
  • One in three admit to driving while drowsy.
  • 18 percent of drivers thought it acceptable to drive after consuming an alcoholic beverage.

The poll also revealed that many drivers don't make vital car maintenance enough of a priority. One in four drivers thought it acceptable to drive a vehicle overdue for a maintenance check. And 42 percent said they only check tire pressure rarely, only before a long trip, only if noticing that tires are low (or aren't sure.)

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