Executive Summary

Background

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce traffic-related healthcare and other economic costs. While much focus has been placed in recent years on alcohol-related driving and speeding, less focus has been paid to other forms of potentially unsafe driving behaviors that draw drivers’ attention away from the primary task of driving such as distracted and drowsy driving.  However, a recent surge in legislation meant to curb cell phone use while driving has increased interest in these and other forms of potentially distracting activities for drivers.

NHTSA undertook this nationally representative survey of drivers in order to collect data on the nature and scope of the distracted driving problem with the intent of understanding how serious the problem is in the public’s eyes, and what countermeasures the public may accept to control distracted driving.

Telephone interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample of 4,010 drivers (age 16 or older) in the United States between February 4 and April 14, 2002.   The data presented in this document are based on the self-reported responses from these surveyed drivers.

Key Findings

Engaging in Potentially Distracting Behaviors While Driving

We considered 12 potentially distracting behaviors in this study and asked drivers how often they personally engaged in each behavior while driving. 

The vast majority of drivers engage in two of the behaviors on at least some driving trips, including:

·         Talking with other passengers (81%)

·         Changing radio stations or looking for CDs or tapes (66%)

 

Nearly half (49%) eat or drink while driving at least some of the time, while the following three activities are performed by about one in four drivers (at least some of the time):

·         Making outgoing calls on a cell phone (25%)

·         Taking incoming calls on a cell phone (26%)

·         Dealing with children riding in the rear seat (24%)

 

The other six activities are undertaken by about one in ten or fewer drivers on at least some driving trips:

·         Reading a map or directions while driving (12%)

·         Personal grooming (8%)

·         Reading printed material (4%)

·         Responding to a beeper or pager (3%)

·         Using wireless remote Internet access (2%)

·         Using telematics such as in-car navigation or crash avoidance systems (2%)


Frequency of Engaging in Potentially Distracting Behaviors While Driving

Based on projections from the sampled drivers, drivers report making an estimated 4.2 billion one-way driving trips in a typical week.  The preliminary estimate from the 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHHTS1), which acquired personal travel data between March 2001 and May 2002, reported that drivers made about 6.0 billion one-way trips each week.  The higher NHHTS figure is likely due to interviewing differences and questionnaire design (eg. this study did not undertake to acquire extensive data on trip detail or segment definition as did the NHHTS).  The measurement in this survey is intended to obtain relative estimates of engagement in potentially distracting behaviors in relation to other behaviors.  Consequently, compared to the NHHTS, the actual estimates of trips could be underestimated by as much as 30%.

To provide estimates of weekly trips involving each behavior, the reported proportion of trips in which the driver engages in a given behavior ¾ such as “on all or most trips” or “on about three-quarters of driving trips” ¾ was applied to the number of total reported weekly driving trips. The formula used in these calculations can be found on page 24 of the report.

Drivers make the following estimated number of driving trips each week while engaging in a potentially distracting behavior on at least some portion of a driving trip:

·         2.38 billion trips while talking to passengers (56% of all trips)

·         1.92 billion trips while changing the radio station or looking for CDs or tapes      (45% of all trips)

·         1.25 billion trips while eating or drinking (30% of all trips)

·         792 million trips while taking incoming cell phone calls (19% of all trips)

·         776 million trips while making outgoing cell phone calls (18% of all trips)

·         776 million trips while dealing with children in the back seat (18% of all trips)

·         414 million trips while looking at maps or directions (10% of all trips)

·         349 million trips while undertaking personal grooming (8% of all trips)

·         131 million trips while responding to a beeper or pager (3% of all trips)

·         116 million trips while using wireless Internet access (3% of all trips)

·         59 million trips whiles using navigation or crash avoidance systems (1% of all trips)

Wireless Cell Phone Use

While six in ten (60%) drivers report having a cellular or wireless phone, more than half of those with cell phones say they never or rarely use the cell phone while driving to make outgoing or take incoming calls (58% and 56% respectively).  While a small proportion of drivers use cell phones only for outbound (5%) or only for inbound (4%) calls, 21% use them for both inbound and outbound calls at least occasionally.  Thus about 30% of all drivers use a cell phone while driving to make outgoing OR incoming calls on at least some of their driving trips.

Wireless phone use is currently receiving a great deal of legislative attention with several municipalities recently having passed (or considering passing) laws that prohibit or limit cell phone use (or hand-held cell phone use) while driving.  Some of the legislation seems to be based on the belief that the use of hands-free devices is less distracting and may be preferable to hand-held phones.  However, others believe that any activity involving mental (such as conversation) or physical (such as eating or playing with the radio) involvement distracts drivers, and that hands-free phones simply offer convenience to drivers.

The current study finds that about one-third (34%) of drivers who do use a cell phone while driving use a hands-free model with speakerphone or head phones (32% of those using cell phones for outbound calls and 36% using them for inbound calls).  About 263 million of the 776 million weekly trips made using a cell phone for outgoing calls are made using a hands-free phone.  While approximately 291 million of the 792 weekly trips using a cell phone for incoming calls are made using a hands-free phone.

Cell phone using drivers estimate that they spend an average of 4.5 minutes per call while driving.  However, 13% of drivers typically spend 10 minutes or more per call.

Involvement in Crash as a Result of Wireless Phone Use

Approximately one in four (26%) drivers report involvement in a motor vehicle crash in the past five years.  One tenth of one percent (0.1%) of all drivers (0.5% of drivers who use a cell phone while driving) attribute a crash they’ve had to cell phone use.  This equates to an estimated 292,000 drivers who report involvement in a crash they attribute to cell phone use in the past    five years. 

Involvement in a Crash as a Result of Distracted Driving

While cell phones are reported to contribute to some automobile crashes, other forms of distracted driving appear to play a much more significant role.  Several behaviors reportedly account for many more crashes than do cell phones.

About 3.5% of all drivers have been involved in a crash in the past five years they attribute to their being distracted ¾ equating to an estimated 6.0 million to 8.3 million drivers. 

Drivers involved in a distracted-related crash attribute their distraction to the following activities:

·         Looking for something outside of the car (building, street sign, etc.) (23% of drivers in a distracted related crash; 0.8% of all drivers)

·         Dealing with children or other passengers (19%; 0.7% of all drivers)

·         Looking for something inside the car (14%; 0.5% of all drivers)

·         Another driver (11%; 0.4% of all drivers)

·         Personal thoughts/thinking (5%; 0.2% of all drivers)

·         Looking at an animal outside of the car (3%; 0.1% of all drivers)

·         Dealing with technology (primarily radio) (2%; 0.1% of all drivers)

·         Other distractions (23%; 0.8% of all drivers)

Perceptions of Actions That Distract Drivers

We asked drivers to rate 12 potentially distracting behaviors that may make driving more dangerous.  Drivers perceive the following four behaviors to be the most distracting:

·         Reading printed materials such as a book, newspaper, or mail (80% feel it makes driving much more dangerous)

·         Using wireless remote Internet equipment (such as a PDA or wireless e-mail) (63%)

·         Personal grooming (61%)

·         Looking at maps or directions (55%)

 

Slightly less than half of all drivers feel that engaging in the following behaviors while driving make driving “much more dangerous”:

·         Making outgoing cell phone calls (48%)

·         Taking incoming cell phone calls (44%)

·         Answering or checking a pager or beeper (43%)

·         Dealing with children in the back seat (40%)

 

One in four or fewer drivers perceive the following activities to be distracting while driving and make driving “much more dangerous”:

 

·         Using navigation or crash avoidance systems (23%)

·         Changing the radio station or looking for CDs or tapes (18%)

·         Eating or drinking (17%)

·         Talking to other passengers (4%)

 

Not surprisingly, drivers who themselves engage in each behavior are less likely to feel it makes driving more dangerous than those who do not engage in the behavior.

 

Perceived Severity of the Threat of Others’ Behavior

Not only do drivers perceive distracting behaviors as more dangerous, but drivers also feel some actions are a major threat to their personal safety.  Seven out of ten (70%) drivers feel it is a major threat to their safety when other drivers look at maps or directions while driving.  Fifty-two percent (52%) feel that others’ use of cell phones while driving is a major threat to their personal safety.  These relative perceptions of reading and using a cell phone while driving as major threats to one’s personal safety are similar to those reported earlier on overall perceptions of how dangerous these activities are (70% and 48% respectively).

Drivers who do not use cell phones while driving are three times as likely as drivers who use them to feel such behavior by others is a major personal safety threat.

 

Support for Initiatives to Curtail Cell Phone Use While Driving

The majority of drivers support the five potential actions measured in the survey to reduce cell phone use while driving. Specifically, they support:

·         Increased public awareness of the risk of wireless phone use while driving          (88% support)

·         A restriction on hand-held phones while driving ¾ only allowing hands-free or voice-activated car-mounted phones (71%)

·         Insurance penalties for being involved in a crash while using a cell phone (67%)

·         Double or triple fines for traffic violations involving cell phone use (61%)

·         A ban on all wireless phone use while a car is moving (except for 911 calls) (57%)

 

While drivers who use cell phones are as likely as non-users to support initiatives involving increased awareness of the risks of cell phone use while driving, and a majority support restrictions on hand held phone use while driving, they generally do not support the use of increased traffic fines or a ban on wireless phones.  Specifically, cell phone-using drivers show much lower support than non-users for:

·         Increased fines for traffic violations when a cell phone is involved (only about 40% of drivers using cell phones support increased fines compared to 70% support by drivers who do not use cell phones while driving).

·         A ban on all wireless phone use in a moving car (about a quarter support such an action as compared to 69% support for drivers who don’t use cell phones)

Drowsy Driving

This study also examined prevalence and conditions of drowsy driving. While the issue of drowsy driving is not currently receiving the attention in the media or among the general public as is the use of cell phones while driving, a significant number of drivers have experienced drowsy driving.  Specifically:

·         Thirty-seven percent (37%) of drivers have nodded off for at least a moment or fallen asleep while driving at least once in their driving career

·         Eight percent (8%) have done so in the past six months

Nodding off or falling asleep recently is most prevalent among drivers age 21-29 (13%) and males (11%) and least prevalent among drivers over age 64 (4%) and females (5%).

Characteristics of Drowsy Driving Trips

The average drowsy driving experience is associated with the following characteristics:

·         Driver averaged 6.0 hours of sleep the previous night (and 24% had slept fewer than five hours)

·         Driver had been driving for an average of 2.9 hours (but 22% had been driving for more than four hours)

·         Occurred while driving on an interstate type highway with posted speeds of 55 mph or higher (59%)

·         Nearly half (48%) nodded off between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

 

Involvement in a Crash as a Result of Drowsy Driving

In the past five years, about 0.7% of drivers have been involved in a crash that they attribute to drowsy driving ¾ amounting to an estimated 800,000 to 1.88 million drivers. 

 

Preventative Actions for Drowsy Driving

When asked what actions they take when they feel sleepy while driving, 43% of drivers report they pull over and rest or nap.  While drivers may feel a social desirability to offer this response, it may also depend on the level of sleepiness experienced.  The severity of a driver’s drowsiness was not accounted for in this study.

Other key behaviors reported by drivers to combat sleepiness while driving include:

·         Open the window (26%)

·         Get coffee, soda, or caffeine (17%)

·         Pull over/get off the road (15%)

·         Play the radio loudly (14%)

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