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Poll: Most believe drivers, not roads or cars, are biggest danger

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A poll released Tuesday finds that while most people believe road conditions and vehicles are generally safer than in the past, that is not the case with drivers, who they believe have become more dangerous.

More than 90 percent of drivers admitted to engaging in risky behavior behind the wheel, including speeding or eating while driving, but also driving aggressively and reading. (Top 10 driving mistakes)

Respondents between the ages of 26 and 44 admitted to the most dangerous driving habits. (Dangerous driving statistics)

"The focus has been on making cars and roads safer," said Susan Pikrallidas, a spokeswoman for AAA. "But driving is a complex task and many of us have very poor driving habits. Fortunately, driving habits can be fixed, and each one of us can fix our part of the problem."

The automobile association is one of the groups involved in Drive for Life, the campaign that sponsored the study. Other members of the coalition include Volvo Cars of North America, the National Sheriff's Association, Partners for Highway Safety, and Greg Ray, an Indy Racing League champion.

The survey polled 1,100 licensed drivers, ages 16 and older, by telephone from May 13 to 16. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

Though respondents admitted to a number of risky behaviors, the polling company found a widespread belief among respondents that they are not to blame for bad driving.

About seven of 10 drivers said they are comfortable with their current level of knowledge about safe driving. When asked how they would do if they retook their driving test, 72 percent said they would ace it, and just one percent said they would fail.

More than three-quarters of respondents said older drivers should be periodically retested, and 69 percent said teenage drivers should be retested. But there was less support for retesting seniors among senior respondents, and less support for teen testing among those aged 16-25.

Fifty-seven percent said travel would be safer if the minimum driving age for new drivers were raised from 16 to 18 years old.

That same percentage of drivers believe America's roads are generally safer than in the past, and 81 percent believe automobiles are safer. Sixty-seven percent, however, feel people are driving less safely now than in the past.

Nationwide, 91 percent of drivers reported engaging in at least one risky behavior within the past six months. Those are the same behaviors associated with the cause of nearly all crashes.

"These findings clearly show that almost every driver has engaged in a risky behavior at least once in the past six months," said Brad Coker, who directed the poll for Mason-Dixon Polling and Research.

The most common behaviors were speeding, eating while driving, and using a cell phone. Twenty-eight percent said they didn't use a seat belt, 26 percent said they didn't use a turn signal, and 10 percent said they had driven while drowsy.

Among the more surprising findings were that 30 percent of drivers say they ran red or yellow lights, 14 percent said they read while driving, and 7 percent said they had made a blinded lane change.

On average, the poll found, women are 11 percent less likely to engage in risky behavior than men.

"The most basic -- and violated -- safety rule is to pay attention, to watch what's going on around you," said Ray, the Indy driver. "At the speeds I travel on a race track, if I take my focus off the road for a fraction of a second, it can be fatal. Street drivers need to know that their attention to what's happening is just as crucial."

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