Survey: Most Support Laws Restricting Cell Phone Use While Driving

August 31, 2009

A vast majority of Americans surveyed say they would support legislation restricting cell phone use while driving.

Some 80 percent of those surveyed by Nationwide Insurance in its new One Your side survey say they would favor a ban on texting while driving, while two thirds favor a ban on cell phone calls, and more than half say they would support a ban on cell phone use altogether.

The survey was conducted Aug. 5-9, 2009 by Harris Interactive. Earlier this summer, Nationwide announced its support of the concept of a national ban on texting while driving to help curb crashes and reduce auto insurance claims.

The survey results are being announced as hundreds of highway traffic safety advocates and officials are convening at the Governors Highway Safety Association’s annual conference in Savannah, Ga., to discuss driving while distracted (DWD) and other highway safety issues. This meeting is taking place in advance of a presidential summit on DWD that is scheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in Washington, DC.

“In recent months, the debate about the dangers of DWD has intensified as more and more states consider taking legislative action,” said Bill Windsor, Nationwide’s safety officer. “The survey results confirm that there is strong public support for banning texting while driving. It also provides insight into support for additional restrictions policymakers may want to consider.”

Support Differs

The results of the new survey show there are varying degrees of support for different types of restrictions. Overall, the survey found that 8 in 10 drivers support some type of cell phone usage restriction.

  • The majority of respondents say they are supportive of laws restricting any type of cell phone use while driving.
  • 80 percent of respondents support a ban on text messaging while driving.
  • 80 percent of respondents support a ban on e-mailing while driving.
  • Two thirds (67 percent) of respondents say they are supportive of laws restricting phone calls while driving.
  • Of those who support some type of cell phone usage restriction, nearly 3 in 4 believe the law should apply to all drivers, not just specific groups.

In geographic regions where one would expect to find higher cell phone usage and more multitasking lifestyles, support for a ban was high. The majority of respondents in the west and northeast regions say they would support a ban on any type of cell phone use while driving.

While it’s not surprising that older generations are supportive of bans, even members of Generations X (ages 33-44) and Y (ages 21-32), who are more likely to use cell phones, are supportive of laws – particularly those banning text messaging and e-mailing. Three fourths of Generation X and Y respondents favor these restrictions.

The overwhelming support for legislation may be driven by increased public recognition of the dangers associated with DWD. In 2008, Nationwide’s DWD survey revealed that 45 percent of respondents had been hit or nearly hit by another driver using a cell phone.

Need for Education

According to the survey released today, respondents say they are witnessing a growth in distracted driving behavior on the roads, underscoring the importance of public education to raise awareness about this dangerous practice.

  • More than half of respondents say they see more drivers using cell phones while driving than they did 12 months ago.
  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents say that when they drive, they always or often see other drivers using cell phones.

“The new information in this survey also indicates that many drivers are either in denial about their DWD habits or resistant to changing their behavior,” said Windsor. “This suggests that legislation may not be enough to eliminate distracted driving and highlights the need for a technological solution that can prevent cell phone usage in moving vehicles while still allowing people to stay connected.”

Nearly half (49 percent) of drivers say a law restricting use of cell phones would not change their behavior because they don’t currently use cell phones while driving.

When you compare this statistic to Nationwide’s 2008 DWD survey, which revealed that more than 80 percent of drivers admit to talking on their cell phone while driving, it may be the case that some drivers are either in denial or too embarrassed to admit their DWD problem.

Resistance to New Laws

In the new survey, four out of five respondents (82 percent) who admit to using their cell phones while driving say their behavior would change if cell phone usage were restricted by law.

However, 18 percent of respondents who admit to using their cell phones while driving say they would continue to do so regardless of a change in law, with Generation Y most likely to resist the change (26 percent).

Nationwide’s 2008 DWD survey found that 43 percent of drivers believe technological advances that prevent cell phones from working in a moving vehicle would be the most effective solution to DWD.

This survey was conducted by Harris Interactive via its National Quorum telephone omnibus service. This study was conducted by telephone within the United States between Aug. 5-9, 2009 among a nationwide cross section of 1,008 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race, and region were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. The results for the overall sample have a sampling error of +/-3 percentage points at a 95 percent certainty.

Source: Nationwide,

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