New Jerseyans go fast, multi-task, but say NY drivers are worse

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A majority of young drivers in New Jersey admit to sending text messages while they drive, but older drivers go over the speed limit and talk on their phones while driving as well. These findings are among the most striking from a recent study by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll, co-sponsored by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. Drivers also say that the effective speed limit in New Jersey is substantially higher than the posted limit, and support the use of cameras to enforce some traffic regulations. Despite their own driving behaviors, a majority of New Jerseyans say New York drivers are worse.

Half (51%) of drivers under 30 years of age say they have sent a text message while driving in the past three years. That compares to less than 10% of drivers over 30.  However, that doesn’t mean other drivers aren’t using their cell phones when behind the wheel.  While the majority of all drivers (59%) claim they “never” use a hand-held cell phone while driving, four out of five (79%) say they see other drivers holding phones and talking “very often.”  The talking and driving goes on despite 9 in 10 drivers (91%) knowing that using a hand-held cell phone is a primary offense in New Jersey and that nearly as many (88%) support the law.

“The fact that people blame everyone else for holding their phones while driving tells us that people at least recognize that it’s a bad thing,” said Pam Fischer, Director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.  “But we need every motorist to not only know the law, but to adhere to it and put down their phones.”

A third (34%) of all drivers and a majority (55%) of drivers who commute more than 20 miles say they “sometimes” or “very often” use a hands-free cell phone while driving. Two-thirds (67%) also say that driving and using a hand-held phone is more dangerous than driving while using a hands-free device.   “Hands-free conversations are simply not safer,” said Fischer. “That’s because your brain is processing the information you’re hearing in your ear and your eyes are no longer scanning the road.  To be truly safe, get off the phone” said Fischer. “If you have to take or make a call, do it in compliance with the law and as quickly as possible.  The only thing you should be doing when you’re behind the wheel is driving.”

New Jersey drivers also don’t seem to mind taking their hands off the wheel for other reasons: more than a quarter (27%) say that they’ve made a rude gesture at another driver in the past few years.  Women are just as likely as men to have done so.

Garden State drivers take other liberties as well.  One in four (25%) say they go over the 65 mph speed limit on the highway “most of the time”; another one in five (20%) say that they exceed the 65 mph highway speed limit “often.”  A majority of drivers under 30 (63%) say they drive over 65 mph “often” or “most of the time.” Just one in six (17%) drivers say they never speed on the highways.

Jerseyans don’t think that they’ll be ticketed for speeding.  Three in four (74%) say that the effective speed limit on New Jersey highways – the speed at which you can go without getting a ticket – is 70 miles per hour or higher.  A quarter (25%) think the real limit is 75 mph or higher. Still, 9% of drivers, including a quarter (24%) of those under the age of 30, report having received a speeding ticket in the past three years.

“There seems to be the perception that speeding isn’t a serious traffic offense, that everyone does it,” said Fischer. “But speed is dangerous. Speed-related crashes in New Jersey have nearly doubled since 2002 and with more than half of these crashes occurring on municipal and county roads, motorists have to slow it down for their sake and everyone else.”

Despite their behaviors, most New Jersey drivers support the use of automated enforcement tools to catch drivers behaving badly: 77%, including majorities in all age groups, support the use of cameras to catch drivers running red lights, and 62% say they support using cameras to catch speeders.

Regardless of what New Jersey drivers are doing, there is wide agreement among them that New Yorkers are worse drivers.  Fifty-four percent say that our neighbors across the Hudson are the worst drivers on the road. This disdain for New York drivers could come from New Jerseyans’ assessment of their own skill: 69% rate themselves as “above-average” drivers, while 30% rate themselves “average.”  Nearly two-thirds of married drivers also rate their spouses as “above average” drivers.

“No one rates themselves as being a below-average driver,” noted Peter Woolley, Director of the FDU poll. “Perhaps they think all the bad drivers moved to New York.”

“As for the number of young drivers text messaging,” said Woolley, “I’m glad I live close enough to campus that I can walk.”

The PublicMind survey was co-sponsored by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety and carried out by telephone from April 17 through May 26 using a randomly selected sample of 1,004 New Jersey residents aged 17 and over who report they drive regularly. It has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

Contacts: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239; Maureen Sczpanski 609.984.2529

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

Copyright © 2008, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 080717]