America's Dangerous Driving Behaviors


All over the country, grills are heating, drinks cooling and long-ago-planned vacations are fast approaching. For those reading these annual touchstones like so many iced tea leaves, all signs point to summer – even if its official start date isn’t until June 21.

While summer brings with it many things to celebrate, it’s a time to be on alert as well. All those summer road trips add up to a whole lot of cars on the road. Couple that with summer being the most dangerous time of year for teen car accidents, and you realize the importance of keeping both eyes on the road. So how are Americans doing? When it comes to knowing what behaviors are dangerous behind the wheel, Americans have most of their facts straight. When it comes to actually avoiding those behaviors though, a clear disconnect continues to exist between the dangers Americans acknowledge and what they do anyway.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,045 adults surveyed online between May 27 and 29, 2014. (Full findings, including data tables, available here)

Eyes wide open

Nearly all Americans believe driving after having three or more drinks (94%) is dangerous or very dangerous, while two-thirds say the same of getting behind the wheel after 1-2 drinks (68%). More than nine in ten Americans believe sending (94%) and reading (91%) texts while driving is dangerous or very dangerous, though in a separate line of questioning, Americans are split on whether it’s OK to check texts while stopped at a red light (with 51% agreeing and 49% disagreeing).

Seven in ten (69%) perceive talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving as dangerous; far fewer (36%) say the same of having a hands-free cell phone conversation while driving, though many studies have refuted the idea that this is any safer than holding a phone while gabbing behind the wheel.

Risky Business

But of course, knowing something is dangerous doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding it. Despite majorities knowing that talking on a cell phone is dangerous, three-fourths of drivers with cell phones say they ever do so (74%), with two in ten (21%) saying they do so frequently. Additionally, strong minorities say they ever read text messages (45%; 15% frequently) or send text messages (37%; 14% frequently). Among those with smartphones or tablets, over one-third ever use such devices to look things up while driving (36%; 12% frequently).

  • More troubling still, these habits are especially common among Millennials. Roughly one-fourth of drivers with cell phones from this generation frequently talk on a cell phone (28%), read text messages (27%) and send texts (24%) while driving.

Americans copped to other distracted driving behaviors as well, including just over one in four who admit to ever engaging in personal grooming while driving (27%), 24% who say they’ve posted to social media, 19% who’ve read a book, magazine or newspaper and 13% who have watched a video on a smartphone or tablet while behind the wheel.

And despite the vast majority of Americans saying driving after drinking is dangerous, 37% of those who drink alcohol say they’ve driven at a time when they’d likely had too much to drink and three in 10 (30%) agree that they are more likely to get behind the wheel after a few drinks if they only have to drive a short distance.

Along for the Ride

Americans are also failing to apply their perceptions of dangerous behavior to their ride-along habits, as majorities say they’re ever passengers in a car with a driver who is talking on a cell phone (63% hands-free, 62% holding), with four in ten saying they do so often or sometimes (41% hands-free, 39% holding).

Over four in ten Americans ever ride with a driver who’s reading (45%) or sending (41%) text messages, with roughly one-fourth saying they often or sometimes do so (26% reading, 23% sending).

  • This is again an especially troubling trend among Millennials, with a majority saying they often or sometimes ride with a driver who’s talking on a cell phone they are holding (55%), and over four in ten often or sometimes riding with a driver who is talking on a hands-free phone (44%), reading texts (45%) or sending texts (41%)

Smaller but still alarming percentages report that they ever ride with a driver who’s using a smartphone or tablet to look something up (36%; 19% often/sometimes), who has been drinking (28%; 10% often/sometimes) or who is checking or posting to social media (24%; 13% often/sometimes).

But beyond watching a driver’s behavior in order to protect themselves, should passengers have a responsibility to monitor their drivers from a legal standpoint? Majorities of Americans appear to think not. Seven in ten (69%) don’t believe that passengers in a car should share legal responsibility if a distracted driver causes an accident, while six in ten (59%) say the same in the case of passengers riding with a drunk driver.

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,234 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #58, June 19, 2014

pOn February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll.  Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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