Most N.C. residents believe cell phone use while driving decreases highway safety, Elon University Poll finds

A new Elon University Poll finds 90 percent of North Carolinians believe using a cell phone while driving is a distraction, and 79 percent say it decreases highway safety. The poll also found citizen opinion split on the establishment of toll roads in North Carolina.

The poll, conducted November 13-16 by the Elon University Institute for Politics and Public Affairs, surveyed 533 North Carolina residents. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.

Seventy-four percent of respondents said a restriction on cell phone use while driving, meaning the driver could not use a cell phone while behind the wheel, would decrease accidents. Nine percent said a restriction would have no effect and 11 percent said it would increase accidents. Five percent said using a cell phone while driving is not a distraction.

Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said it is safer to use a hands-free device for phone conversations while driving; 2 percent said holding the cell phone was safer, and 10 percent said neither method is safe.

Eighty-four percent of citizens said they own a cell phone; of those, 51 percent said they do not use a hands-free device while driving, 20 percent said they use a hands-free device and 7 percent said they sometimes use a hands-free device. Twenty-two percent said they do not use a cell phone while driving.

Seventy-percent said they were not aware of anyone who has been involved in an accident while using a cell phone, while 29 percent said they did know someone involved in an accident while using a cell phone. Ninety-two percent said if a driver was using a cell phone while involved in an accident, that information should be included in a police report.

“Old habits appear tough to break,” said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University Poll. “While a large majority of North Carolinians understand the safety threats and distractions of using a cell phone while driving, a majority of people continue to use their cell phones in their cars.”

Citizens were split on the question of establishing toll roads in North Carolina. Forty-nine percent oppose or strongly oppose collecting tolls on state highways, while 47 percent support or strongly support toll roads.

When asked whether they support or oppose toll roads as another source of revenue for road maintenance and construction, 51 percent support or strongly support toll roads, while 45 percent are opposed or strongly opposed.

Nineteen percent said a gas tax is the best way to pay for road maintenance and construction in North Carolina, followed by current taxes (11 percent); car tax (10 percent); license fees and taxes (7 percent); and tolls (7 percent).

“While North Carolinians don’t necessarily like the idea of tolls, they seem to support tolls slightly more when these are presented as another source of revenue for road maintenance and construction,” Bacot said.

Citizens were asked to list the transportation issues they believe are most important in North Carolina today. Sixteen percent identified public transportation as the most important transportation issue, followed by gas prices (13 percent); poor road conditions (13 percent); congestion (12 percent); construction (12 percent). The next closest issue was rail or train transportation (3 percent).

The poll also found steady support for a statewide public smoking ban in places such as public buildings, restaurants, bars and offices. Sixty-three percent of those polled said they would support or strongly support such a ban; in a September Elon University Poll, 65 percent were in favor of such a ban.

Sixty-four percent of citizens said they prefer to visit restaurants and entertainment places that do not allow smoking and 55 percent said they are less likely to visit a place where smoking is allowed.

“It is clear from the results of both the September and November polls that people definitely support a ban on smoking in public places,” said Bacot. “With public support consistently high, the days of people enjoying a cigarette at their local restaurant or bar may be numbered.”

The Elon University Poll has conducted several polls annually since 2000. The non-partisan Elon University Poll conducts frequent scientific telephone polls on issues of importance citizens. The poll results are shared with media, citizens and researchers to facilitate representative democracy and public policy making through the better understanding of the opinions and needs of citizens in the state and region.