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24% Of Drivers Admit To Coming Close To Causing An Accident While Texting

By Aaron Crowe

Almost one-fourth of drivers feel they’ve come close to causing an accident while using their cellphone while driving, according to a recent survey by CheapCarInsurance.net.

Overall, 28% of those surveyed say they’ve texted, emailed or browsed the Internet while driving, a part of distracted driving that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates is responsible for 10% of U.S. auto crash deaths each year.

The drivers aren’t uneducated poor people. Most are young (47% are ages 18 to 29), college educated (66% are college graduates or have spent some time at college), and have high incomes (40% earn $75,000 or more per year).

Women were more a little more likely than men (27% of women vs 20% of men) to admit to coming close to causing an accident while using a cellphone in the car.

The CheapCarInsurance survey was done June 20-23 of 1,005 adults 18 and older, and has a margin of error of 3.6%.

The survey results are lower than a 2011 study by the CDC that found that 68% of U.S. adult drivers aged 18-64 reported that they had used their cellphone to text or talk while driving. However, CheapCarInsurance’s survey results were a little higher than United Kingdom drivers in the CDC study, where 20% of UK respondents admitted to using their cellphone while driving.

The percentage of CheapCarInsurance respondents who admitted to texting and using their cellphone while driving is lower than a 2012 AAA study that found that 34% read a text or email while driving, and 26% typed one. AAA also found that views on distracted driving were more “Do as I say, not as I do,” with 80% saying its a very serious threat to safety, and 82% saying it’s completely unacceptable.

When comparing themselves to other drivers who use their phones to text or email while driving, many of the CheapCarInsurance respondents were overconfident in their ability to text and drive.

When asked what type of driver they think they are when using their phone, the biggest percentage (44%) think they’re average, but 36% said they were above average drivers. Only 18% said they’re below average.

Men were most likely to make this assumption, with 43% saying they’re above average, compared to 29% of women.

Among age groups, 83% of young people 18 to 29 say they’re average or better drivers while using their cellphones, and 84% of respondents in the next age group of 30-49 say the same thing.

“That overconfidence is a necessary part of psychological development,” says John Mayer, a psychologist in Chicago.

Overconfidence in one’s abilities, including driving and texting, is a developmental task that all young people go through and is gradually stripped away as they age, Mayer says.

“We’re born narcissistic, that the whole world revolves around us, and we can have whatever we want,” he says.

But before young people become responsible adults with children and a steady job, they need overconfidence to help them take risks they might not take otherwise, Mayer says. “These are important things. Otherwise you wouldn’t do anything,” he says.

The CDC study found that men and women are generally the same when admitting to using a cellphone while driving, but younger age groups were more likely to do it, says Rebecca Naumann, an epidemiologist at CDC’s injury center.

Young people have been found to be more likely to partake in high-risk behaviors such as speeding, drinking and driving, not wearing seatbelts and texting or using their cellphones in a car, Naumann says.

If parents engage in distracting behaviors while driving, then their teenage children are more like to do so too, according to a 2012 University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study. Teens read or send text messages once a trip 26 times more often than their parents think they do, it found.

Overconfidence of people who use cellphones while driving has been found in other studies. A 2012 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that at least half of all drivers reported that talking on a phone makes no difference on their driving performance. When asked if sending text messages or emails while driving impacts their driving, 25% said it makes no difference, the NHTSA found.

The NHTSA distracted driving survey also found that drivers ages 25 to 34 reported talking on the phone at the time of a car crash or near crash 10% of the time, more than any other age group.

The CheapCarInsurance survey also found that people with low incomes rated themselves as better than average drivers when compared to others who use cellphones while driving, with 37% of those with annual incomes of $30,000 or less saying they’re above average drivers. They were more confident in their abilities to text and drive than all other incomes, except for 43% of those earning $50,000 to $74,900 per year.

The overconfidence of the low income respondents may come from having nothing to lose and the sense that a fatal driving accident while texting won’t happen to them, Mayer says.

When comparing themselves to other drivers on the road in general, respondents who use their cellphones while driving aren’t as confident in their texting and emailing abilities while driving, with only 28% saying they’re above average. Men remain more confident than women in this area (37% vs 20% saying they’re above average drivers), but more women say they’re average (47% vs 40%).

It’s a natural tendency to answer a phone or text message when a phone rings, but there are ways to move a phone lower on a priority list while driving, says Steve Dziadik, who owns a driving school in Florida.

There are plenty of apps that can help stop people from texting and driving, but probably the best method is to put the phone in the trunk. There’s nothing more important while driving than driving, says Dziadik, whose young students are at first frightened of all of the multi-tasking they’ll be doing while driving.

“You’re going to start driving and you’re going to start thinking that you have spare time while driving,” he says.

Young drivers will let some distractions slowly creep in to their driving, he says, such as letting the front-seat passenger hold the steering wheel while they text. Teens tell Dziadik that they can text blindfolded, and think they can text while driving.

“Driving is very, very multi-tasking,” he says, “and you’ve got to be focused on it all of the time, because it’s nothing but multi-tasking.

New drivers need three to six months of driving with no one else in the car with them, especially teens, he says.

“They’re not going to try to distract you because they have a death wish,” Dziadik says of teenage passengers. “They’re going to socialize because it’s natural.”

Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.