Highlights of Findings 98

A Survey of the Attitudes of the American People
on Highway & Auto Safety

A Public Opinion Poll conducted by Louis Harris for
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

April 1998

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer, health, safety and insurance groups working together to advance highway and auto safety, recently sought to determine how Americans feel about specific highway and auto safety issues, policies and programs. To do so, Advocates commissioned a well-known national pollster, Louis Harris, to survey a cross section of adults. This is the second poll Harris has conducted for Advocates. The first Harris/Advocates poll was conducted in May of 1996.

As in the first study, a broad spectrum of issues was covered. Among the key findings:

Strong Mandate for Federal Presence in Highway and Auto Safety:

At a time when it seems that many federal programs have been under attack, there is strong public support for the federal government to continue and even strengthen its role in areas of safety. Among respondents, a massive 89% majority feels it is important for the federal government to be concerned with these areas of safety. In this study, a major ground-breaking section dealt with a subject that has until now received little attention - the impact of drowsiness on driving particularly related to the use of medications.

Drowsy Driving A Serious Problem:

An overwhelming 80% to 16% majority of the American people say that "the problem of drivers getting drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel" is a "serious problem," with 39% calling this danger to safety "a very serious problem."

A substantial 55% of the public reports that they "know someone who has had a problem of staying awake and alert when they are driving a car," and 81% of these people say that person was "close to them," indicating a member of their family or a close friend. Thus, the experience of drowsiness or falling asleep while driving is a condition which strikes close to home among a majority of Americans.

Drowsy Driving as the Result of Taking Medications a Growing Concern:

When asked if they were aware that "drowsiness in driving might be caused by people who are taking medications which may make them nod off when they are driving," 80% said they were either "very aware" (52%) or "somewhat aware" (28%) of the problem. This indicates that the American people have both a knowledge and an interest in this matter. Indeed, among those who take medications which can cause drowsiness, awareness of the dangers in driving are higher than among any other groups.

Specifically, among the 21% who report taking allergy medications, 87% say they are aware of the potential problem of nodding off, compared with 84% of the 26% who take pain medication who feel that way, and 80% of the 16% who take high blood pressure medication.

Notification of the dangers of driving when using medication emerges as a major concern among the vast majority of Americans. Specifically, 85% of the public is convinced that "It is important that people who take such medications should be warned specifically not to drive a car after taking them or should take other medications which help them for their condition but do not cause drowsiness." Thus, there is an overwhelming mandate from the public that warnings about medications that cause drowsiness should be given and if there are medications which help a condition and do not cause drowsiness, people want very much to know about them.

Big Mandate for Better Road Markers and Special Paving on Shoulders of the Road:

In this survey the public was asked about better road signs and special paving along the shoulders of the roads to warn drivers they are going off the road. A substantial 88% majority feels it would be "helpful" to have "brighter and larger, and better colored and better lit signs and clearer pavement lane lines and edge lines that would be helpful to drowsy drivers, the elderly, and those who might have normal trouble reading such signs." An even higher 93% of the American people would favor building roads "with a special kind of paving so when you are going off the road onto the shoulder, the road makes a rumbling or buzzing sound which warns you that you are going over the edge of the road."

State Use of Red Light Running Cameras Favored:

In light of the growing number of communities and states who are adopting camera documentation of those who run red lights, it is highly significant that a 65% to 30% majority of the American people now favor statewide adoption of the use of cameras mounted on signal lights to "take a picture of the license plate of each car that has run a red light." Then the owner of that car is sent a ticket in the mail with a fine for going through a red light. People want their state to adopt such a red light policy now. Most in favor are both Republicans and Democrats, residents of the West, women, and older people.

Consumer Information Wanted:

Today, no more than 13% of the American people are "very familiar" with the auto crash tests the federal government regularly conducts on motor vehicles sold in the U.S. Nonetheless, a decisive 85% to 12% majority now favor making it "mandatory that everyone who buys a new car receive at the point of sale a report of the auto safety crash tests conducted by the federal government on that car." Clearly, concern over the safety of a new car being purchased is a high priority of American consumers.

The kinds of specific information people want was clearly spelled out in the Advocates poll:

  • 69% feel it would be "highly useful" for them to get information about the effectiveness of air bags and safety belts;
  • 67% feel it would be highly useful for them to know "the extent of side impact protection in the car";
  • 62% believe it would be "highly useful" to know "the chances the vehicle will roll over";
  • 55% feel it would be "highly useful" to learn about "the effectiveness of head restraints."

Safety Features in Car Advertising Emphasized:

When asked what kind of advertising they would like more or less of, the results proved to be clear-cut:


  • In the case of ads which "show how much fast pick-up and speed on the road a car can achieve, 49% said they would like to see "less" of this kind of advertising, compared with only 23% who want more of it and 25% who want the same amount of that sort of advertising.
  • By contrast, fully 79% say they want to see more ads for new cars "point up the safety features of a new car," while only 7% want less of this kind of advertising and 12% the same amount of this type of ad.

Clearly the American people are deeply concerned about the safety of new cars they might purchase. They want to know the facts about crash tests at point of sale and want advertising which tells them how safe the brand being advertised really is, rather than how fast it can go.

Concern of Consequences of Collisions Between Cars and Sport Utility Vehicles:

A substantial 62% of the public say they are aware of press and television news of "the severe accident consequences of bigger passenger vehicles, such as sport utility vehicles and pick up trucks hitting smaller vehicles." And 74% say they are "concerned about the severe accidents that then occur." Significantly, however, only 27% of sport utility vehicle owners and 35% of pick up truck owners say they are "concerned" about such accidents, compared with 41% of those who own regular cars, who make up 76% of all car owners.

Greater Safety Features on Large, Commercial Trucks Wanted:

By 71% to 21%, a majority of the American people are willing to pay higher prices for goods in exchange for tougher truck safety standards.

Side Impact Protection Important:

By 81% to 13%, a sizable majority wants, "The government and auto manufacturers to make certain that the protection in crashes on the sides of passenger vehicles" is improved.

It is patently apparent that the American people want greatly improved side impact protection in every new car sold in the U.S.

Quicker Emergency Response a Top Priority:

By 68% to 27%, a clear majority would like to have a device in their car that "automatically notifies local hospitals and emergency medical services" in the event of a car crash.

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