Harris Poll shows drops in several driver distractions, including texting

(July 18, 2013) NEW YORK — Driver distraction is a factor in many of the accidents that occur on American roadways every day; in fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cited it as a contributing factor in 11% of fatal auto accidents and 17% of "injury crashes" in 2011. 

But the state of American road safety may be showing some improvement, as instances of drivers engaging in key distractions behind the wheel appear to be declining.

The percentage of auto consumers reporting one or more distracted driving experiences in the average month (four-week period) declined slightly, from 84% in 2012 to 82% in 2013.  Furthermore, many technology-related driver distractions are showing decreases as well, with the percentage of auto consumers making a phone call (53% in 2012, 47% in 2013), receiving a phone call (59% in 2012, 53% in 2013), and reading a text message (25% in 2012, 23% in 2012) while driving in an average month all show significant drops.

These are among the findings of the 2013 Harris Poll AutoTECHCAST study, conducted online by Harris Interactive from April 4 to May 9, 2013, among 13,718 U.S. drivers ages 18+ who meet specific criteria, including owning a 2008 to 2013 model year vehicle and anticipating being at least 50% involved in the decision to purchase or lease their next household vehicle.

Cell phone use and texting are two of the most common driving distractions, and have been the focus of many new laws and educational campaigns at the state and local levels. 

This attention on distracted driving may be having a positive effect, as the study not only shows a decline in the overall percentage of auto consumers engaging in tech-related distractions, but also a decline in the average number of times they engage in each one over a four week period.  Significant declines are seen for making (5.4 in 2012, 4.5 in 2013) and receiving (5.5 in 2012, 4.6 in 2013) phone calls, as well as reading emails (1.9 in 2012, 1.4 in 2013).  The total number, on average, of distracted driving acts in a four week period declined from 36.5 in 2012 to 33.8 in 2013.

The study specifically reveals reduced emailing and texting while driving by younger auto consumers (ages 18-34), who show significant drops in the average number of text messages sent per 4 week period (3.7 in 2012, 2.9 in 2013), reading text messages (7.4 in 2012, 5.2 in 2013), sending emails (1.9 in 2012, 1.2 in 2013) and reading emails (3.3 in 2012, 1.7 in 2013).

A 2012 NHTSA study echoes these findings, showing some distraction declines and pointing to education and laws as contributing factors.  Mike Chadsey, vice president, Automotive Solutions Consultant, Harris Interactive, cautions that "While both the NHTSA report and the AutoTECHCAST study show declines in some distracted driving activities, there remains a long road ahead in the race to get distracted driving under control.  However, it seems that the message is starting to get through to consumers, as fewer are reporting engaging in distracted driving activities," said Chadsey.

In addition to some encouraging shifts in driver distraction levels, consumers are also looking for added safety in their vehicles.  The AutoTECHCAST study assessed various technologies to determine which are most preferred in a consumer's next vehicle, with increases seen in consideration for many such features over the past few years. Safety related technology preferences – determined by giving consumers a hypothetical budget and allowing them to determine which features they would find worth the investment – showing significant growth from 2012 to 2013 include:

    Back-Up Camera (38% 2012, 47% 2013)
    Adaptive Headlamps (31% 2012, 37% 2013)
    Blind Spot Warning (29% 2012, 36% 2013)
    Emergency Front Collision Warning (25% 2012, 29% 2013)
    Surround View System (18% 2012, 28% 2013)
    Driver Monitoring System (20% 2012, 25% 2013)
    Lane Keep Assist (19% 2012, 24% 2013)
    Pedestrian Sensing and Protection System (15% 2012, 22% 2013)
    Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication (12% 2012, 18% 2013)
    Cell Phone Blocker (11% 2012, 14% 2013)
    Teen Driver Key (10% 2012, 14% 2013)

While price/cost appears to be the top priority when auto consumers make decisions about their next vehicle (out of a provided list of 24 factors), the study finds that "Safety features" rank as the seventh most important vehicle characteristic; women (17%, vs. 11% among men) and those ages 18 to 34 (19%, vs. 12% among those ages 35 and older) appear significantly more likely than their counterparts to look for them, with safety features ranking fifth most important for both of these groups.

"We've been seeing preference for safety features increasing over the past few years," explains Chadsey, "and this could be great news for all drivers, as vehicles with more safety features become more common on the road."