AAA: 'Widespread indifference' to unsafe driving

Posted at 7:04 PM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 19:11:32-05

CINCINNATI — Ninety percent of American drivers admit to risky driving practices, such as drowsy or drugged driving, running red lights, or texting while driving, according to new data released by AAA Thursday.

Ninety. Percent.

And it’s not just that they admit it, AAA said. It’s also that they don’t really care.

“It’s not that most drivers don’t know the difference between right and wrong, safe or unsafe,” AAA spokesperson Cheryl Parker said. “But there is a culture of widespread indifference, leading more and more people to pay a deadly price.

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The new survey results are part of the AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which is used to survey drivers’ attitudes and behaviors related to their safety behind the wheel.

To dig into the numbers a bit deeper, 42 percent of drivers admitted to reading a text or email behind the wheel, and 70 percent admit to taking a phone call while driving in the last 30 days. One in three admitted to typing or sending a text or email while driving in the last month.

AAA lumps these behaviors into the “distracted driving” category, which the survey showed more than 80 percent of drivers viewed distracted driving as a bigger problem now than three years ago. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found distracted driving to be a factor in at least 3,000 traffic deaths each year.

And then there are the more traditional — and to some, more obvious — risks:

  • 48 percent admitted to going 15 mph above the speed limit
  • 13 percent admitted driving when their alcohol level might have been near or more than the legal limit within the past year
  • 32 percent admitted to driving at a time when they were so tired they couldn’t keep their eyes open
  • 18 percent admitted to driving without a seatbelt
  • 39 percent admitted to having driven through a light that had just turned red, even though they had the space to stop safely

With some of those statistics, the more alarming part might be how many admitted to repeating that behavior. For example, 9 percent of drivers admitted to driving impaired more than once in the last year.

Michael Belcuore has been teaching driver’s education with AAA here in Cincinnati for years. He thinks the issue comes down to how comfortable drivers feel in their cars.

“People are comfortable in the car,” he told WCPO. “They’ve been doing it for years and years.”

But even just one incident could mean the difference between a life of one’s own and a life behind bars.

Cincinnati Police Department Traffic Unit Lt. Bruce Hoffbauer said that, with repeat offenders, “It’s not if, it’s a matter of when. If you take someone’s life, you could be looking at a vehicular homicide. If you seriously injure someone, you could be looking at aggravated vehicular assault.”

Belcuore said the best practice is patience.

“It can wait,” he said. “There is nothing. There’s no phone call, no email, no text, no nothing that is more important than your life and the life of those around you.”