New Jersey Drivers are Above Average… sort of

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When it comes to safety behind-the-wheel, New Jersey drivers excel in seat belt use, but earn less than a passing grade when it comes to obeying the speed limit, hanging up their cell phones, and not driving after drinking or when drowsy.  These confessions, along with the belief that most New Jerseyans are “above average drivers” particularly when compared to New Yorkers, are just a few of the findings from a recent study by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind co-sponsored by the state's Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

Most New Jersey drivers (87%) report “always” wearing a seat belt” compared to just 3% who say they “never” do, but half (49%) say they drive over 65 mph on the highway “often” or “most of the time.” Moreover, nearly three out of four drivers (73%) who commute over 20 miles and young drivers (71% who are 17-30 years of age) say they drive over 65 mph “often” or “most of the time.”  When asked about the “effective” speed limit on New Jersey highways -- the speed at which you can go without getting a ticket -- four of five drivers (81%) say it is 70 mph or more. And one in three drivers say the effective speed limit is 75 mph or more. “Speed is a critical factor in the severity of crashes,” said Pam Fischer, Director of the state's Division of Highway Traffic Safety. “Slow it down and everyone will be safer.”

Drivers split 48% to 46% over whether speed limits should be more strictly enforced. They also disagree about their chances of being in a serious crash. While 49% say it is “somewhat” or “very likely” they may be in a life-threatening crash, 43% say it's “not likely” or “very unlikely.” Only one in four could correctly guess (within a generous margin of +/-33%) how many motorists die each year in the state. “We lose on average two people every day to motor vehicle crashes and hundreds more are injured,” said Fischer. “Last year, 773 New Jerseyans died as a result of motor vehicle crashes and thousands more were injured.  We need the public to understand that the carnage on our highways is a public health crisis.”

Asked whether cameras should be used to help enforce speed limits and red lights, 55% say they should while 41% oppose their use. Men split on the issue (48% to 48%) but women support the idea (61% to 33%).  “It's impossible to have a police officer on every road or every street corner,” said Fischer.  “New technologies such as red lights cameras and photo radar can help make our roads safer for motorists and pedestrians.”

One in four drivers (26%) say they use a hand-held cell phone in the car “very often” or “sometimes,” essentially unchanged from a 2005 survey taken just before using a hand-held cell phone and driving was made a secondary offense. Young drivers are far more likely to report they hold a phone and drive than are older drivers, as are those who drive over 65 mph “often” or “most of the time.”  Despite these findings, there is wide support (73%) among all drivers for making driving and talking on a hand-held phone a primary offense.  “Drivers need to put down their cell phones, newspapers, coffee cups, and portable electronic devices and focus on driving,” said Fischer.  “A motorist's only priority should be on making their ride safe rather than more productive.”

Age does not appear to matter in the proportion of respondents who drive after drinking alcohol with 23% of all drivers saying that they've driven after drinking in the past three years. But men (33%) are more likely than women (14%) to drink and drive.  Men are also more likely to report having driven when drowsy (39% to 22%) and to have made a rude gesture to another driver (32% of men compared to 21% of women) within the last three years.  “Alcohol is a factor in more than 30% of the motor vehicle fatalities on our roadways,” pointed out Fischer.  “Even if you have just one drink, don't get behind the wheel.”

The vast majority of New Jersey drivers (87%) know they must stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, but awareness drops with age from 92% of those under 30 to 82% of those over 60.  Despite this awareness, New Jersey has a higher than average pedestrian fatality rate, 21% of those killed in motor vehicle accidents, compared to the national average of 11%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  “We need every motorist to know and observe the law when it comes to pedestrians,” stressed Fischer.  “Drivers must yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk.  At the same time, pedestrians must remember to cross only at corners and to obey traffic signals.  Safety is everyone's responsibility.”

New Jersey motorists preparing to do some summer driving to the shore, Six Flags, or the Water Gap, will be glad nonetheless to know their fellow motorists in the state are by and large “above average” drivers. Two-thirds (68%) of New Jerseyans rate their own driving skills as “above average compared to most other drivers on the road.” Men are more likely than women (74% to 62%) and conservatives are more likely than liberals (72% to 64%) to rate themselves above average.

A majority of New Jersey drivers (55%) point their finger at New Yorkers as the worst drivers among neighboring states.  Only 15% identify Pennsylvanians as the worst. Even south Jerseyans point to New Yorkers more than to Pennsylvanians (49% to 20%). But New Jersey itself comes in a surprising third on the list even though the Garden State wasn't offered as a choice: 9% volunteered that New Jersey drivers are themselves the worst in the region.  “That's frankly hard to understand,” said Peter Woolley, director of the poll, with a wink of his eye, “considering all the above average drivers in the state.” But he noted that in a similar survey in Delaware this past February, 61% rated themselves “above average” and a plurality (45%) singled out New Jerseyans as the worst drivers.

The PublicMind survey was co-sponsored by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety and carried out by telephone from April 25 through May 22 using a randomly selected sample of 947 New Jersey residents aged 17 and over who report they drive regularly. It has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.


Contact: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239 or Pam Fischer 609.633-9272

For more information, please call (973) 443-8661.

Copyright © 2007, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 070627]