Risky Business Behind the Wheel: Drivers Wear Masks but Drive Distracted

According to a survey released today by the National Safety Council and TRUCE Software, drivers remain persistently unable to disconnect behind the wheel, even 10 years after Distracted Driving Awareness Month brought increased attention to a persistent roadway killer, and nearly all states have some form of legislation prohibiting certain types of distractions.

In the survey of 2,001 registered drivers ages 25 and older across the country, 76% of respondents said they are “very willing” to wear a mask in public – but just 62% are “very willing” to obey a state law preventing cell phone use. The finding speaks to a long-standing behavior change dilemma: Many people will rightly take steps to mitigate immediate risks to their safety – especially if they believe the measure will be temporary, such as wearing a mask, but widespread behavior change that can drive down chronic safety incidents, such as motor vehicle crashes, often takes much longer.

Since October is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, NSC and the observation’s lead sponsor, TRUCE, a company dedicated to decreasing workplace distraction and improving worker safety, are urging employers to enact distracted driving policies at their workplaces to compensate for many drivers’ unwillingness to adhere to state laws. Further, NSC and TRUCE urge employers to promote a safe driving culture, something the survey indicated many companies may not foster effectively enough. According to survey respondents, 46% say “demands or pressure from work” leads them to glance, read or send emails while driving.

“Clearly, we continue to accept crashes and near-misses as the cost of connectivity,” said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO. “As we mark the 10-year anniversary of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we must commit to improvement – particularly with a national pandemic compounding traffic safety even further. Saving lives will mean disconnecting behind the wheel once and for all so everyone can arrive at their destination safely.”

“As the survey shows, solving the problem of distracted driving means taking action, not just having a willingness to try,” said Joe Boyle, CEO of TRUCE. “Employers are in a unique position to influence behaviors across large groups of individuals by making sure they have the right policies in place and the tools to enforce those policies, changing not just what happens behind the while but also how the rest of the organization communicates with their driving coworkers.”

Thousands die each year in distracted driving crashes, though National Safety Council investigations show these crashes are significantly underreported and undercounted. Despite 48 states banning texting while driving, and 25 states banning handheld use, drivers responding to the NSC-TRUCE survey indicated it will take more than laws to change their behaviors. Sixty-one percent said they would need to be involved in a near-miss – and 59% said they would have to be involved in a fatal crash – to be dissuaded from using technology while driving. Fifty-eight percent cited state laws and 52% cited federal laws as being enough to change behavior. Encouragingly, 56% said they believe employers policies are effective distracted driving deterrents.

Other important findings from the poll include:

  • More than 65% of drivers would be willing to turn around to get their phone if they realize they didn’t have it within the first 15 minutes of driving
  • 81% of drivers said they’ve seen other drivers almost cause a crash because they were distracted
  • 59% of respondents say pressure from family would motivate them the most to answer or make a cell phone call while driving
  • Nearly 14% of drivers admitted they would participate in video chat or watch streaming video if there were no laws prohibiting it.
  • 32% of drivers still think they can use their phone safely as long as they pay attention to the road.
  • Encouragingly, 57% say that if their vehicle came pre-set with solutions to eliminate distraction while driving, they would not turn the features off

NSC observes Distracted Driving Awareness Month annually to help make our roadways and our people safer. It is usually observed in April but was moved to October because of COVID-19.

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