2001 Louis Harris Poll Highlights

Highlights of Findings

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

September 2001

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), 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 1,001 adults in July 2001. This is the fourth poll Harris has conducted for Advocates.

A variety of high priority problems in highway and auto safety were probed. Some questions extended trend lines from previously asked questions in 1996, 1998 and 1999, while others explored new areas such as red light cameras, SUV rollovers and safety regulations for Mexican trucks crossing the southern border into the United States. The survey was conducted in conjunction with the release of Advocates' 2001 "Stuck in Neutral" report, which outlines specific legislative and regulatory recommendations for reducing deaths and injuries on the nation's roadways.

Some of the key findings of the public opinion survey are:

Strong Mandate for Federal Role in Highway and Auto Safety

By convincing majorities, the public strongly supports the federal government setting uniform safety standards as opposed to delegating such power to each individual state. 90% of Americans support a strong federal role in establishing highway and auto safety standards. As in preceding polls, the percent of those who feel federal involvement is "very important" is greatest among women, minorities and adults over the age of 30.

  • Public Favors Increased Federal Spending on Highway and Auto Safety
    Knowing that more than 100 people are killed on U.S. highways each day, Americans are in favor of boosting federal spending on highway and auto safety. A record high 83% of the public, compared to 77% in 1999, now believe the budget for highway and auto safety should be increased.
  • Americans Support "Penny at the Pump" to Increase Spending
    An 82% to 16% majority would be willing to dedicate one cent of the current 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax to support additional funding for highway and safety programs.
  • Majority Requests Uniform Government Safety Ratings
    Safety is a major factor considered by the American public when purchasing an automobile. In fact, 73% research safety performance ratings before purchasing a vehicle and, if given a choice, 78% would pay more money for a vehicle with improved safety systems. Not surprisingly, an even higher 84% would favor government safety ratings posted on the window sticker of all vehicles offered for sale in the United States.

Overwhelming Support for Youth Highway Safety Issues

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among Americans aged 1-34 years old and the number one killer of American teenagers. Additionally, more than 500 children between the ages of four and eight are killed in motor vehicle crashes and another 100,000 injured. With this in mind, the poll found strong support for strengthening child restraint and graduated licensing laws.

  • Public Favors Booster Seat Legislation
    The majority of state child restraint laws only require children up to the ages of three or four to use a child restraint seat while riding in a car. Therefore those older than this age group who do not yet fit safely into an adult seat belt are put in danger. Only seven states have passed booster seat laws to address this problem. By a margin of 79% to 17%, the public favors extending state child restraint laws so that children between the ages of four and eight years of age will be required to use a booster seat while riding in a car. Currently, only one child in 10 between the ages of four and eight is properly restrained in a booster seat while riding in a motor vehicle. State laws will help to significantly increase booster seat use.
  • Majority Supports Strict Teen Driving Laws
    By large majorities, the public wants enforced restrictions placed on young drivers before and initially after they receive their licenses. There is nearly unanimous support (95%) for teenage drivers to complete at least 30 to 50 hours of practice driving with an adult. An equally large majority of Americans (92%) believe that teens should be required to hold a learner's permit for a minimum of six months before given the opportunity to receive a full license. In addition, a three to one majority (74% to 23%) supports limiting the number of teen passengers in the car with a teen driver and unsupervised driving during high-risk periods, such as nighttime.

Strong Demand for Improved Intersection Safety

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that approximately 40% of motor vehicle crashes occur at intersections or are "intersection-related." As evident in past Louis Harris polls, Americans still recognize the inherent danger of intersections and feel very strongly about the importance of intersection safety.

  • Public Favors Intersection Improvements
    A solid 78% of the public wants more attention paid to improving intersection safety. Since this question was originally asked in 1999, the percentage of respondents in the "highly concerned" group has risen significantly from 31% to 43% of Americans.
  • Majority Supports Red Light Cameras
    Despite heated debates across the nation, the use of red light cameras as a law enforcement supplement is still favored by well over a 2-to-1 majority of the public. This number directly corresponds with 73% of Americans wanting more attention paid to reducing red light running.
  • Americans Concerned About Speeding
    Another issue that is relevant to intersection safety is speeding. There is growing public concern about the dangers of driving too fast while speed limits have increased across the nation. 77% of Americans want more attention focused on the problem of speeding, especially in neighborhoods.

Broad Support for Rollover Standard

The SUV market is the fastest-growing segment of new vehicle sales. However, recent media focus has drawn the public's attention to rollover concerns. Crashes involving vehicle rollover result in more than 10,000 deaths and over 200,000 injuries each year. As these statistics have increased, so has the public's attention with more than 71% of Americans saying they are concerned about the dangers of rollovers in vehicles. There is currently no federal rollover safety standard but 85% of Americans believe one is necessary.

Widespread Approval for Cell Phone Limits

Although an estimated two out of every three adults owns a cell phone, 83% of the public wants more attention paid to the dangers of cell phone use by drivers. In addition, the public favors legislation that would restrict the use of cell phones while driving (76% to 22%). And, 90% of Americans believe that police officers should indicate on crash reports whether a driver was using a cell phone.

Growing Concern About Mexican Truck Safety Standards

The U.S. border is scheduled to be opened in January 2002 for unrestricted travel throughout the U.S. by Mexican trucks. Furthermore, the trucks will be allowed to operate for up to 18 months before undergoing a comprehensive safety inspection. A nearly unanimous 94% of the American people oppose such access without the proper safety inspections. The issue is causing widespread anxiety among the American people with the vast majority (88%) of those polled expressing concern that safety standards will be lowered.


Strong Support for State Motorcycle Helmet Laws

At a time when many state legislatures are considering repeals or rollbacks of all-rider helmet laws, an overwhelming 81% of the public favors state laws requiring the use of helmets by motorcyclists. Motorcycle helmets have been shown to save lives and prevent serious brain injuries.

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