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National Safety Council reveals Americans aren’t the safe drivers they think they are

A new study released today shows Americans need to be re-educated about proper car safety standards. A public opinion survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the National Safety Council (NSC) and Castrol GTX Start Upâ„¢, reveals that 93 percent of Americans are hitting the roads ill prepared -- therefore increasing their chances of a road incident.

“For so long, safe driving discussions have centered on safety while driving that Americans have almost forgotten to take the proper safety precautions before starting their cars,” said Chuck Hurley, NSC transportation safety group vice president. “While some may see it as mundane, the reality is that in a tricky driving situation, having followed the start-up safety precautions before turning the key can make the difference between safety and a disaster.”

Correct behaviors conducted before starting the car can help combat two of the leading causes of serious car crashes - seatbelt use and incorrectly inflated or unevenly worn tires. In 2003, incorrectly inflated or unevenly worn tires contributed to more than 20,000 serious auto incidents.

The NSC conducted their first-ever survey on motorists’ pre-start inspections and behaviors to determine if Americans were following proper safety guidelines before they start up their cars. “We were surprised when nine out of 10 respondents admitted to not following them,” added Hurley.

The survey results led to the creation of the Start Up for Safety Campaign - designed to emphasize the importance of taking proper safety precautions before turning the key. The seven pre-start safety precautions the NSC recommends happen every time a driver gets behind the wheel are:

  • Buckle seatbelts and make sure they’re properly fastened - in the last 20 years, an estimated 157,500 lives have been saved by safety belts.

  • Adjust mirrors - three out of 10 survey respondents do not adjust their mirrors before short driving trips (two hours or less), when it is more likely you will get in a crash.

  • Position seat and head restraints - correctly positioned head restraints reduce whiplash injuries resulting from crashes by 28.3 percent.

  • Secure loose objects - only 34 percent of survey respondents regularly secure loose objects in their cars, even though, on average, loose items - from luggage to soda pop cans - are responsible for 13,000 injuries in accidents nationwide in just one year.

  • Turn off cell phones - in the last five years alone, nearly 300,000 drivers have been involved in crashes attributed to cell phone use.

  • Look for engine warning lights - three out of four respondents said they always check to see if their check engine light is on; however, many admitted to checking the light while already driving.

  • Check your fuel level- in preparing for a trip - large or small - it’s necessary to ensure you have enough gasoline in your tank to get there and back. Twenty-five percent of survey respondents said they do not check their gas level.

Start Up Can Also Save Money

With gas prices steadily increasing year over year, American drivers now have another reason to pay attention to the start-up guidelines. According to the Department of Energy, following the proper start-up procedures - such as proper tire inflation - can actually save five cents per gallon for each fill-up. Additionally, regularly checking your oil and replacing it with the correct grade during an oil change can improve gas mileage as much as 2 percent, a savings of up to three cents per gallon (for more information, visit

More Findings

While 99 percent of survey respondents rated themselves as safe drivers, 9 out of 10 do not conduct the appropriate safety checks before starting their cars. The survey also questioned respondents on their overall driving behavior and uncovered other surprising findings:

  • Distance does not make a difference. Only 9 percent of drivers always conduct the NSC-recommended safety checks before they take a two hour - or longer - driving trip.

  • Men put the pedal to the metal. Drivers who reported aggressive driving behavior and exceeding the speed limit tended to be men.

  • The phone is not off the hook. Less than 20 percent of drivers who use cell phones turn them off before driving. The NSC believes that a driver's first responsibility is the safe operation of the vehicle and that best practice is to not use electronic devices including cell phones while driving.

  • We are a nation of speeders. One out of three respondents said it was acceptable to drive more than five miles over the speed limit on interstate highways.

  • Women aren’t as safe as they think. Women consistently reported that they are safe drivers, yet they fail to follow the NSC-recommended maintenance procedures.

One thousand drivers ages 18 and older were surveyed, with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. Some key questions asked included:

  • Do you consider yourself to be a safe driver?

  • Thinking about every time you get in your car and before you turn the key, when going on a short trip or running an errand in your neighborhood, do you always check:

    • To make sure your mirrors are properly adjusted?

    • To make sure all occupants are correctly belted?

    • To make sure your seat and head restraints are properly adjusted?

    • To make sure all doors are closed and locked?

    • To make sure loose objects are secure?

    • Around and underneath your car for potential obstacles?

    • To make sure the car is secure, such as checking to make sure your car has not been broken into or there is no one unusual or suspicious in or around the car?

About the National Safety Council : The National Safety Council is a non-profit, non-governmental membership information-driven organization with 37,500 organizational members and 5,000 active volunteers from private business and industry, organized labor, community groups, schools and academic institutions, government agencies, and other non-profit organizations. The NSC is both a national and local organization with offices in Chicago and Washington D.C. , and affiliated local chapters in more than 40 communities across the nations.