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Young millennials top list of worst-behaved drivers

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—A new survey found that 88 percent of young millennials engaged in at least one risky behavior behind the wheel in the past 30 days. The dangerous behaviors included such things as speeding, texting and running red lights.

The findings by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety come as U.S. traffic deaths increased to 35,092 in 2015 — an increase of more than 7 percent and the largest single-year increase in five decades.

Tom Iverson, public information officer with the North Dakota Highway Patrol, said young drivers always have been the most prone to engaging in risky behavior.

"That age category tends to be the higher risk-taking group, so thus we're going to come across more of those issues such as maybe alcohol-related crashes or distracted driving crashes," he said.

Distracted driving

According to the survey, 59.3 percent of respondents ages 19 to 24 reported sending a text message or email while driving in the previous 30 days, compared with 31.4 percent of respondents across all age groups.

Keith Ronkowski, owner of the driver's education program Forks Drive-Right in Grand Forks, said his course emphasizes defensive driving so new drivers can learn to be aware of others on the road who might be distracted.

"Especially with young drivers, they sometimes forget to look at other people on the road and are more concerned only with their driving," he said.

Iverson said texting while driving is the most talked-about issue in distracted driving and added it is so dangerous because it requires directing both eyesight and brain power away from the road.

"When you think of driving down the road, (there are) many things that experienced drivers take for granted," he said. "There's a lot of things going on. It's a constant flow of information your brain is processing, and when you throw another task into that situation, such as sending a text or reading a text, it has to pull from somewhere."

Driving aggressively

Almost half of the survey respondents ages 19 to 24 reported driving through a light that had just turned red when they could have stopped safely, compared with 36 percent of respondents of all ages who admitted the same. The youngest respondents also were 1.4 times as likely as all respondents to have driven more than 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street, the survey said.

"Cars are safer, but the people driving them are not," said Gene LaDoucer, a AAA spokesperson. "They think that once they're within this metal shell of their vehicle that they're going to be safe, but unfortunately we're losing far too many people nationwide in traffic crashes, so people should not be believing that."

A spot of hope

But before we honk too loudly about the young millennial drivers, there is a bright spot. The group also has one of the best habits: wearing their seat belts.

Both Iverson and Ronkowski said they see more young people wearing seat belts than older drivers.

"The younger generation has grown up with seat belts being a habit in their families," Iverson said. "Versus maybe some of the older generation who grew up without seat belts, quite frankly, and it was an afterthought for some."

According to data from AAA, 87.8 percent of the survey's respondents said driving without a seat belt is unacceptable, and more than 4 out of 5 reported never driving without one themselves.

"We know any step in a positive direction is a good step," Iverson said.

The AAA survey sample included 2,511 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving in the past 30 days.

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