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Survey: Less concern about dangerous driving habits

 Survey: Less concern about dangerous driving habits

Tom Urban of Fairless Hills has been hit twice in the last two years — once by a drunk driver and once by a texting driver.

Posted: Monday, August 26, 2013 5:45 am | Updated: 12:16 pm, Mon Aug 26, 2013.

Andy Vineberg Staff writer PhillyBurbs.com

Don’t count Tom Urban among an increasing number of Americans who aren’t concerned about dangerous driving behaviors.

The Fairless Hills resident has been hit in his car twice in the past two years — once by a drunk driver making an errant left turn and once from behind by a driver who was texting. Both times, he was stopped at a red light.

“I’m forever looking in my rear-view mirror and side-view mirrors,” said Urban, who required neck surgery after both accidents and suffered a broken finger and a bruised heart after the first one.

“This area is pretty much a party area,” he said. “It’s amazing that after a certain age, people don’t grow out of that behavior. And it doesn’t seem like the law does enough.”

Overall, Americans don’t share Urban’s concerns. The number of people who perceive drunk, aggressive, distracted or drowsy driving as serious threats has dropped significantly since 2009, according to analysis of four years of public surveys by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

According to AAA, the number of people who believe driving after drinking is a serious threat has declined from 90 percent in 2009 to 69 percent in 2012. The number who consider drowsy driving a serious threat dropped from 71 percent to 46 percent, and the number who believe texting or emailing while driving is a serious threat dropped from 87 percent to 81 percent.

These survey results coincide with a 5.3 percent increase in annual traffic fatalities in 2012, to more than 34,000 — the first annual increase in seven years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In Pennsylvania, there were 1,310 highway fatalities in 2012, 24 more than the previous year, according to PennDOT data.

Gertrude Matlack of Middletown isn’t surprised by the grim statistics.

“I always see drivers with their telephones, texting … women putting on makeup, or fixing their hair. It seems like everybody’s always in a hurry,” she said. “It happens quite a bit, I’ll be stopped at a light and I’ll see people texting, not paying attention. Or people at ‘no turn on red’ signs who turn anyway.”

Victor Primus of Doylestown believes that most people aren’t concerned until they or a loved one are hurt in an accident involving an unsafe driver.

“When they get hurt, then they worry,” he said.

A service writer at a Lower Bucks auto repair shop doesn’t need any statistics or survey results to conclude that American drivers are more careless than they used to be.

“I’ve seen more people hitting curbs than I ever have in my life,” said the service writer, who declined to give his name because of company policy. “Lots of people are doing alignments. And I’m seeing more and more cars with scratches all the way down the sides and major dents.

“When you fill out the invoices, there’s a section for scratches and dents, and there are more and more cars coming in where I’m circling yes five times in that section.”

He doesn’t know for sure if the increase in body damage is from texting while driving, since he and his coworkers do not ask people their stories, but he assumes that’s a factor.

Given the public awareness campaigns about the dangers of texting and driving, you’d think such incidents would be down. But according to the AAA survey results, the number of people who admit to texting while driving increased from 21 percent in 2009 to 26 percent in 2012.

“I think people hear the same message over and over again, they become numb to it,” the auto repair shop employee said. “You keep telling people the same thing, after a while they stop paying attention.”

Elijah Dupree Sr. of Bristol Township said he was “shocked” to learn that Americans are growing less concerned about dangerous driving habits.

“I’m really concerned about it,” he said. “You see people texting, speeding, dashing in and out of lanes … Go up and down Route 13 and you see all these memorials, innocent children whose lives were snuffed out because of careless drivers.”

Staff writer Amanda Cregan contributed to this story.

Stuart DiMartini is a personal injury lawyer and car accident attorney.
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