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Traffic Safety Culture Update

Cedric HughesThe AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, founded in 1947, is a not-for-profit, publicly supported research and education organization dedicated to saving lives and reducing injuries from road crashes. The front page of its Winter 2012 newsletter includes the following ‘Did You Know?’ factoid: Fifty-eight years ago this month (February 17, 1954), President Eisenhower hosted the first White House Conference on Highway Safety, noting that between 1904 and 1950, more people were killed in traffic crashes than in all the wars since the nation’s founding.

Above this information, ‘The President’s Corner’ section of the newsletter notes that despite the record low crash fatality number for 2010 (32,885), the need to “create a new conversation about changing the traffic safety culture in this country” remains ongoing.

The good news, adds the AAA President, is that “Pretty much everywhere I go “safety culture” is a hot topic.”  And he reiterates the AAA Foundation’s commitment to keeping the momentum going “towards zero deaths” listing upcoming new research projects on teen drivers, licensing policies, in-vehicle technologies, enforcement, and the driving habits of motorists.

Alas, there is also the ‘not so good’ news about safety culture.  The AAA Foundation’s fourth annual Traffic Safety Culture Index finds 70% of Americans saying they value safe travel and desire a greater level of safety than they now experience, but the summary of major findings indicates a strong “do as I say, not as I do” dichotomy:

  • Drinking and driving:  14% admit to it at least once in the past year; 1 in 5 of these (21%; 3% of all drivers) admitting to the past month.
  • Cell phone usage while driving:  more than 2 in 3 admit to it in the past month, and nearly 1 in 3 fairly often or regularly.  Hands-free cell phone use is generally accepted; hand-held use disapproved of somewhat strongly (71%).  But nearly half believe, incorrectly, that most others actually approve of it.
  • Texting and emailing while driving:  generally considered a very serious threat to personal safety and completely unacceptable but more than 1 in 6 (17%) don’t perceive social disapproval; more than 1 in 4 (26%) admit to it in the past month; and more than 1 in 3 (35%) report reading a text message or email in the past month.
  • Regarding an outright ban on any type of cell phone usage while driving: small majority (53%) support.
  • Speeding:  52% of drivers admit to 15 mph over on a freeway in the past month, and nearly 1 in 4 consider this acceptable.  (Speeding on residential streets is much less common, and generally considered unacceptable.)
  • Red light running:  generally viewed as unacceptable but more than 1 in 3 drivers (37%) admit to it in the past month.
  • Drowsy driving:  considered a serious threat and completely unacceptable but nearly 1 in 3 admit to it in the past month.
  • Driving without wearing a seatbelt:  considered unacceptable, but nearly 1 in 4 admit to it in the past month, and nearly 1 in 5 admit to doing so more than once.

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