Is texting at the wheel as dangerous as drunk driving?

October 16, 2014, 3:45 PM UTC

Americans are slightly more likely to say that texting at the wheel is 'extremely dangerous' than say the same about drunk driving

A new ad campaign sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has hit the airwaves encouraging people to abstain completely from alcohol before driving. Recent studies have shown that the risk of accidents is far higher even when a person's blood alcohol content (BAC) is well within legal limits. Even someone with a BAC of only .01, the lowest recorded and equivalent to an adult man drinking half a beer, is much more likely than a sober person to be responsible for a crash. The US legal limit is currently .08, higher than in most other developed countries, which generally have limits of .05 or less. 

The latest research from YouGov shows that 86% of Americans say that it is 'extremely dangerous' to text while driving. 83% of the public says the same about having more than a couple of drinks before driving and being very tired while driving. Most people also think that it is very dangerous to get behind the wheel while talking on a cell phone that isn't hands free (55%) or to drive after smoking marijuana (53%). 

Asked whether they themselves have personally engaged in these risky behaviors, most Americans (77%) say that they have driven while slightly tired. Most have also talked using a non-hands free phone (55%), while eating and drinking (67% and 68%) and after having had a drink or two (51%). Only 16% say that they have driven after smoking marijuana, while 30% admit to driving after they've had more than just a couple of drinks. For certain risky behaviors, people who describe them as 'extremely dangerous' have also done it, for example only 2% of Americans say that texting and driving isn't either 'extremely dangerous' or 'somewhat dangerous' but 23% admit to having done it. 

Large majorities of Americans say that driving after more than a couple of drinks is 'extremely dangerous', but attitudes differ about how dangerous it is to drive after only having one or two drinks. Overall, 31% say that it is 'extremely dangerous' to drive after having one or two drinks, while 47% say that it is 'somewhat dangerous'. There is a notable age divide, however, as 36% of under-30s say that it is 'extremely dangerous' to drive after only one or two drinks, compared to 25% of over-65s, the same percentage of over-65s who say that it isn't dangerous to drive after only a couple. 

Full poll results can be found here.