UT Survey Finds Tennessee Drivers Feel Less Safe on Roadways

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KNOXVILLE — Four out of ten drivers feel less safe on the road than they did five years ago. That’s according to a recent highway safety survey of Tennesseans conducted by the Center for Transportation Research (CTR) and the Center for Applied Research and Evaluation (CARE) at the University of Tennessee.

The biggest fear factor: distracted drivers. Texting and emailing while driving was considered to be equally as threatening by Tennesseans as drinking while driving. Nine out of ten respondents cited the behavior as a threat to their personal safety.

“It is telling that Tennesseans now find texting and e-mailing while driving a threat equal in severity to drinking and driving,” said Jerry Everett, CTR research director.

While drivers may find this behavior unsafe, it does not stop them from doing it. The survey found one out of five drivers engaged in this behavior in the past thirty days. This research showed inconsistencies between attitudes and behaviors were common among the respondents.

Other key findings include:

  • Seventy percent said it was unacceptable to drive fifteen mph over the speed limit on a freeway, yet 40 percent said they had in the past thirty days.
  • Ninety-four percent of drivers say driving drowsy is unacceptable, yet nearly a quarter of the respondents had done it in the past thirty days.
  • Only four out of 100 people say they had driven after drinking too much in the past year.
  • Eighty-two percent support a health screening and “behind-the-wheel” driving test for license renewal for drivers over the age of seventy-five.
  • More than 90 percent support requiring new drivers to take a training program on how to operate a vehicle and a classroom-based driver education course.
  • Seventy-five percent of drivers always drive with a seatbelt.
  • Four out of ten Tennesseans cited automobile crashes as the main cause of death when in fact it is sixth leading cause of death.

“While deaths due to automobile crashes are down in Tennessee, the more than 900 lives that were lost on Tennessee roads in 2011 and the roughly 45,000 injuries from crashes are still too high,” said Everett. “Further reducing the number of injuries and fatalities on Tennessee highways will likely require a culture shift with regard to safety that leads to changes in driver behavior.”

Everett notes that while almost all respondents consider drinking and driving unacceptable, driving while texting or while drowsy are still considered risks worth taking.

This survey of more than 900 Tennessee residents this past year was designed to assess the safety culture and driving habits of Tennesseans. It was modeled after the annual Traffic Safety Culture Index conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The full report is posted on http://ctr.utk.edu/. The AAA Safety Culture survey can be found at http://www.aaafoundation.org/resources/index.cfm?button=research.

C O N T A C T:

Tammy Enix (865-974-4621, tenix@utk.edu)

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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