Washington, D.C. – Distracted driving is most likely to make motorists feel unsafe, according to a new survey by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The second annual Traffic Safety Culture Index found that 35 per cent of drivers surveyed said they feel less safe than they did five years ago.

Distracted driving scored highest, with 80 per cent of motorists rating it as a very serious threat to their safety. Even those who admitted to distracted driving, including reading or sending text messages or emails, acknowledged that they were putting themselves in danger.

“As mobile technology evolves at a breakneck pace, more and more people rightly fear that distracted driving – phone calls, emails and texting – is a growing threat on the highways,” said AAA Foundation president and CEO Peter Kissinger. “The 2009 Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that people today fear distracted drivers almost as much as drunk drivers.”

The study also found:

- 90 per cent of respondents said people driving after drinking alcohol were a very serious threat to their safety, while 87 per cent said the same about text messaging or emailing while driving

- While 80 per cent of motorists rated distracted driving as a very serious threat to their safety, over two-thirds admitted to talking on a cell phone, while 21 per cent admitted to reading or sending a text message or email while driving in the past month. Nearly 90 per cent said that texting or emailing while driving was a very serious threat to safety, yet 18 per cent of those same people admitted texting in the past month. While 58 per cent said that talking on a cell phone was a very serious threat, 55 per cent of those same people reported talking on cell phones while driving in the past month.

- Nine out of 10 people considered running a red light unacceptable, but 26 per cent of those same people admitted to running a red light.

- Nine out of 10 people considered tailgating unacceptable, but 24 per cent admitted to tailgating in the past 30 days.

A previous AAA Foundation survey found that two out of three drivers believed using a hands-free cell phone was safer than talking on a hand-held device. In this survey, the use of a hands-free cell phone was the only behaviour that more than half of all drivers rated as acceptable, even though numerous other studies have shown it is equally dangerous as talking on a hand-held phone.

“There are many motorists who would never consider drinking and driving, yet they think it’s somehow okay to text or email while driving,” Kissinger said. “We need to stigmatize distracted driving to the same degree as drunk driving in our culture, because both behaviours are deadly. This survey shines the light on drivers behaving badly; it also raises some dangerous public misconceptions. We’d like to end the belief that ‘it’s the other guy’s problem’ and end the false sense of security that ‘if I chat on a hands-free cell phone I’m somehow safer’.”