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Fewer talk and text while driving, survey says

Wednesday - 11/30/2011, 8:46am  ET

driving texting (Thinkstock)
Area employers started educating employees about their distracted driving policies. Last year, 51 percent of drivers didn't know those policies. The percentage has declined to 31 percent, AAA Mid-Atlantic says. (Thinkstock Photo)

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WASHINGTON - Fewer drivers are talking on hand-held cell phones or texting while behind the wheel, according to a new survey.

The survey of 1,000 Capital Beltway drivers finds the number of people talking on hand-held phones dropped to 22 percent this year from 33 percent last year. That's the lowest it's been in the three years the survey has been conducted.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed by Transurban-Fluor and AAA Mid-Atlantic says they changed their behaviors in construction zones and either do not text or do not talk on the phone.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend credits distracted driving awareness programs, such the "Orange Cones. No Phones." campaign, with helping change cell phone behaviors, particularly in the Capital Beltway High Occupancy Toll Lanes construction zone through Fairfax County.

"It shows us that behavior, especially in terms of distracted driving, can be modified with a strong message. You also have to have strong laws and strong enforcement," Townsend tells WTOP.

Forty-six percent of Northern Virginia drivers and 60 percent of Fairfax County drivers say they are aware of the "Orange Cones. No Phones." campaign. More than 100,000 employees in Northern Virginia have received information about the dangers of distracted driving.

The survey finds the number of drivers using their cell phones while driving declined to 66 percent from 81 percent in 2010.

But Townsend says the number of people who say they respond to work-related calls or texts declined only 2 percent. In 2011, 48 percent of people responded to work calls.

A year ago, most drivers (57 percent) said they responded because their employer expected an immediate response.

"No one wants to lose their job because they're unresponsive, and that's the great temptation for the drivers over 40," Townsend says.

This year, only 18 percent say they responded because an immediate response was expected. The motivating factor for responding to calls and texts this year is the desire to multi-task and save time, the survey finds.

Of those surveyed, 49 percent say they had texted or answered a call while driving in the past week.

Townsend says stronger laws are needed to discourage distracted driving. In Virginia, it's not illegal to chat on a hand-held phone while driving.

Do you believe people are texting or talking less behind the wheel? On the Beltway in Virginia, are you noticing any change in the number of people talking on their phones or texting? Use #WTOPTalkback on Twitter or weigh on WTOP's Facebook page.

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