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Status Report, Vol. 43, No. 7 | September 9, 2008 Subscribe

Cellphone users admit to driving while distracted

Four out of 5 cellphone owners surveyed by Nationwide Insurance admit to driving while distracted, even though 98 percent of all motorists surveyed consider themselves to be safe drivers. Nearly half of the drivers surveyed consider cellphones and other high-tech gadgetry to be the most dangerous distractions. Almost two-thirds of drivers who own cellphones say they're expected by family, friends, or employers to always be reachable by phone or another communication device. Distractions mentioned in the survey range from phone use to adjusting a radio or music player and eating while driving.

"It's clear that distracted driving has taken over our roadways, and our survey shows no one is immune, no matter how safe they think they are," says Bill Windsor, associate vice president of safety at Nationwide. Results are from the insurer's second annual survey of driving while distracted, which polled 1,503 drivers across the country. Distracted driving is prevalent among people of all ages. More than three-quarters of 18-30-year-old respondents, 80 percent of 31-44 year-olds, 65 percent of those 45-61, and 60 percent of 16-17 year-olds said they'd talked on a cellphone or done other distracting things like eating while they were behind the wheel.

Among teenage and Gen Y drivers (18-30 years old) who own cellphones, nearly 40 percent said they send or read text messages while driving. Nearly half of the teens and Gen Yers said they do other tasks while driving because they want to stay connected to friends or family.

Survey respondents were about equally split on what to do to curb the use of cellphones while driving. Forty-two percent cited cellphone bans, while 43 percent mentioned technology to prevent the devices from being used in a moving vehicle.

A separate survey of teenage drivers conducted by State Farm and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that only 1 of 4 view cellphone use while driving as very dangerous. Almost 80 percent, however, recognize text messaging as a risky thing to do behind the wheel. Published in May, this survey of more than 5,000 students in grades 9-11 examined their attitudes about 25 risky driving situations.

Nationwide Insurance and the National Safety Council will host a symposium in the District of Columbia on Oct. 14-15, 2008, to explore ways to curb distracted driving.

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