NJ Drivers Continue to Roll the Dice with Safety

August 10, 2012
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By Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Survey

Despite understanding the consequences, New Jersey drivers continue to speed and engage in other unsafe behaviors, according to a recent study by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, co-sponsored by the state’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

Overall, 1 in 3 (32 percent) Garden State drivers say they drive 70 mph on the highway “most of the time” or “often,” up from 25 percent in 2011. Drivers with long commutes – over 20 miles (38 percent); and the youngest drivers – those under 30 (37 percent) are most likely to speed.

Not surprisingly, those who report frequently driving fast are twice as likely to have received a speeding ticket in the past three years as those who report speeding “just once in a while” or “never” (10 percent vs. 5 percent). Despite the results, drivers are aware of the potential to be ticketed for such risky behaviors.

Overall, 8 in 10 (80 percent) believe they are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to get a ticket for speeding.

“It is disappointing that despite all that has been done in the state and people’s awareness of the risks, that so many individuals continue to drive at dangerous speeds,” said Dan Cassino, a professor political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and the principal investigator of the survey.

Texting while driving has decreased from 25 percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2012. However, the youngest drivers, despite texting less than in 2011, continue to do so at rates (48 percent) much higher than all other age groups (34 percent, 20 percent and 3 percent, respectively). “Forty-eight per­cent is an improvement,” said Cassino, “but the fact that half of the least experienced drivers are still texting while driving is terrifying. It looks like outreach programs have been working, but they’re not yet enough.”

Their understanding regarding the legality of texting while driving might be part of the problem. Fifteen percent of drivers under 30 think that it’s legal, compared to just 2 percent of drivers overall. Most drivers (85 percent) know that texting while driving is illegal, but they’re split on whether the current penalties are enough to stop the practice. Fifty-two percent say that the current fine of $100 is enough to dissuade them but 43 percent say that it isn’t enough to stop them personally from texting. “Even though they know it’s illegal, fewer than half think they will get pulled over for texting,” said Cassino. “Thirty-four percent of all respondents tell us that they frequently see other people texting behind the wheel, and see no reason why they should be the one to get ticketed for it.”

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On the positive side, most (91 percent) report wearing a seatbelt while driving, a figure that remains virtually unchang­ed from 2011 (90 percent). Those with the longest commutes are equally as likely to wear seatbelts while driving (93 percent), however, it’s again the youngest drivers (83 percent) and those who frequently speed (85 percent) who are the least likely to wear seatbelts.

Three-in-five (60 percent) think they are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt while driving.

This year’s study found a decrease in the use of hand-held phones while driving. Only 9 percent of drivers admit to using a hand-held phone behind the wheel regularly, down from 26 percent just five years ago.

Despite these low figures, however, most (72 percent) report they see others talking on a hand-held cellphone “very often.” Although most (95 percent) know it is illegal to talk into a hand-held cellphone while driving, young drivers are not as knowledgeable of the law, as 1-in-10 (11 percent) believe it is legal.

Young drivers (17 percent), those with long commutes (15 percent), and speeders (15 percent) are the most likely to report talking on a hand-held cellphone “most of the time” or “often.” Among all drivers, those who report talking on a hand-held cellphone are a third more likely (16 percent) to have been in an accident than those who do not (12 percent). Once again, only half (54 percent) of all respondents believe it is very or somewhat likely they will be ticketed for talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving.

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“For New Jersey drivers, speeding, texting and long commutes are all related behaviors,” Cassino said. “There seem to be two big clusters of risky drivers in New Jersey: Young drivers, and older, more educated drivers with long commutes. Together, these groups constitute the majority (about 62 percent) of the accidents and tickets in the state.”

Despite all of this, New Jersey drivers think pretty highly of themselves. Seventy-two percent of drivers in the state rate themselves as being above average, and only 1 percent evaluates themselves worse than the average driver. The real problem, according to them, is people from New York. Fifty-two percent of New Jersey drivers say that drivers from the Empire State are the worst of those in neighboring states, with 15 percent each naming Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“Drivers who go fast think they’re more skilled than other drivers; drivers who go slow think that they’re more careful,” said Cassino. “Pretty much everyone thinks that they’re above average, and so they can get away with talking on the phone, speeding or texting.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University survey was co-sponsored by the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety and carried out by telephone from April 14 to May 17, using a randomly selected sample of 1,001 New Jersey residents, age 17 and older who report they drive regularly, including an oversample of
drivers under the age of 30. The survey has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

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