By Margaret Hasken

LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — Speeding was a primary contributing factor in almost 40 percent of traffic fatalities in D.C. in 2013, but AAA says Americans are still taking risks when driving.

According to the AAA Foundation’s latest Traffic Safety Culture Index, many Americans report that they regularly speed, run red lights, use distracting devices or drive drowsy, despite the fact that one in three have a loved one who has been seriously injured or killed in a crash.

The report also finds one in five drivers have been involved in a serious crash and one in ten have been seriously injured in a crash, drivers still practice unsafe behaviors.

“It is very disappointing that we continue to see a prevailing attitude of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ where large numbers of motorists seem to recognize the risks of certain behaviors but do them anyway,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Enhancing the safety culture in society must begin with each individual.”

In a three-year span, just over two million drivers were ticketed for speeding or for running red-lights in D.C. In a five-year period (from 2009-2013), 53,770 drivers were ticketed for distracted driving (that includes using a cellular phone without a hands-free device) according to D.C. Police.

The most recent findings from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s annual survey that assesses and benchmarks the attitudes and behaviors of drivers revealed that the prevalence of unsafe driving behaviors during the previous 30 days are widespread, including:

– Red light running: More than a third (36 percent) of drivers admit to running red lights, yet 55 percent say it is a very serious threat and 73 percent say it is completely unacceptable.
– Speeding (10+ mph) on residential streets: Nearly half of drivers report speeding (44 percent), yet 65 percent say it is completely unacceptable.
– Drowsy driving: About 3 in 10 drivers (29 percent) admitted to drowsy driving, yet 45 percent say it is a very serious threat and 81 percent say it is completely unacceptable.
– Texting/emailing: More than a quarter (27 percent) of drivers report typing or sending a text or email, yet 79 percent of drivers say it is a very serious threat to safety and 84 percent say it is completely unacceptable.

“While the decline in traffic fatalities nationally and locally in recent years signifies a positive trend, far too many people are still engaged in unsafe and risky behavior patterns behind the steering wheel,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “This deep-seated cognitive dissonance – where our thoughts and attitude don’t mesh with our behavioral decisions while driving – is one of the greatest obstacles preventing us from improving safety on our roads. Traffic safety is a mindset. It isn’t just about manual proficiency.”

On average, 82 traffic crashes occur per day in D.C. In 2012, 18,428 traffic crashes occurred on the streets of D.C., and 5,258 of those crashes resulted in injuries, and nine resulted in fatalities. Distraction, mostly stemming from cell phone use while driving, was the overarching contributing factor in 1,939 traffic crashes that year, the report finds.

When it comes to specific distracted driving behaviors in the past 30 days:

– 2 in 3 drivers reported talking on their cell phone
– 1 in 3 drivers reported talking on their cell phone often
– 1 in 3 drivers admit to reading a text message or email

The economic and societal cost of traffic crashes is staggering in the United States – $871 billion ($999 million in D.C.) in the loss of life and the loss of productivity in 2010 alone – according to the May 2014 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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