WASHINGTON -- Sixty percent of American drivers think speeding by others is a threat to their personal safety, but they also admit to some risky road behavior of their own, according to a government survey released Friday.
Thirty percent reported entering an intersection within the previous week just as the stoplight was turning red. A quarter reported not completely stopping at a stop sign. Twenty-three percent said they had driven more than 10 mph over the speed limit on an interstate in the previous week.The survey was the first comprehensive look by the government at speeding and unsafe driving conditions. It was released at the start of a two-day symposium on aggressive driving. Its findings prompted top transportation officials to declare their commitment to stricter enforcement of the nation's traffic laws.
"We can shift the paradigm on aggressive driving penalties just as we shifted the paradigm on drunken driving penalties," Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater told the symposium attendees, largely lawyers, police officers and judges.
"No longer can these offenders expect a slap on the wrist. There will be serious judicial consequences for their actions," Slater said.
Offering a personal testimonial was Cheryle Adams, a pedestrian whose legs were crushed when two drivers ran a red light as she crossed a street in Washington in June 1993. To this day, Adams faces the threat of amputation of both limbs. The driver who hit her received a traffic citation.
"I live with pain every day," Adams said, breaking into tears. "I think it is time to focus on enforcement."
The survey was sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It was conducted in two parts from Feb. 20 to April 11, 1997. One sample focused on speeding and involved 3,000 drivers over age 16. The other focused on unsafe driving in general and also involved 3,000 drivers.
The margin of error for the full sample was plus or minus 1.3 percentage points. The margin for the partial survey on speeding was 2.5 percentage points.
The survey asked drivers what kinds of unsafe behavior they usually encounter on the road.
They responded: cars weaving in and out of traffic, 24 percent; tailgating, 17 percent; driver inattention, 15 percent; unsafe lane changes, 10 percent; unsafe passing, 9 percent; ignoring stop signs, 8 percent; failing to yield, 6 percent; drinking and driving, 5 percent, and running red lights, 5 percent.
The study also found that age and gender are two important factors in unsafe driving. In general, men were more likely than women to report committing all 21 types of unsafe behavior examined in the survey. At the same time, the proportion of drivers engaging in unsafe behavior declined as age increased.