Survey: 76% of Americans think they're safe drivers (but are they really?)

woman driving with phone right hand

Americans may think they're driving safely, but how much do they underestimate common distractions? We polled 2,000 drivers to find out.

Are Americans overconfident on the road?

The overconfidence bias is everywhere. From classrooms to boardrooms, people are naturally wired to be more confident in their abilities than they objectively should be. There are dozens of studies that have demonstrated overconfidence in different professions, from doctors and lawyers to teachers and investors. So we wondered — how common is overconfidence on the roads?

To answer this question and better understand driving habits, we surveyed 2,000 Americans ages 18 and up. We wondered how safe people think they are and wanted to measure that against how safe they actually are.

Read on to learn about driving safety, or jump forward to learn:

The majority of Americans rank themselves as safe drivers

We asked respondents to rate their driving safety on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the least safe and 5 being the safest. Overall, people consider themselves safe drivers — 76% of respondents gave themselves either 4 or 5 stars.

most drivers gave themselves a 4 or 5 star safety rating graphic most drivers gave themselves a 4 or 5 star safety rating graphic

Given these results — if you know nothing else about driving safety — it seems that roads are pretty safe. However, the reality is that in 2018 alone, there were an estimated 40,000 fatalities on American roads. With so many people saying they're safe drivers, how does this figure make sense? We wanted answers, so we asked more questions.

Americans admit to engaging in multiple unsafe driving behaviors

After we got a good picture of how safely people think they're driving, we wanted to know how safely people are actually driving. This brought us to our next question: Which of the following do you do while driving? Answer choices included various unsafe driving behaviors such as fiddling with the navigation, eating, speeding, texting, running yellow or red lights, and tailgating.

people admit to unsafe driving graphic people admit to unsafe driving graphic

The results found that 26% of people engage in not only one, but multiple unsafe driving behaviors. Additionally, 93% of respondents admitted to engaging in at least one unsafe driving behavior — despite the fact that 76% of respondents had previously rated themselves as safe drivers in our first question.

drivers overestimate their safety graphic drivers overestimate their safety graphic

While engaging in seemingly "small" unsafe driving behaviors may feel like no big deal, any reckless action that impairs your driving — anything that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off the driving task at hand — can cause serious consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, distracted driving caused approximately nine deaths and 1,000 injuries every day in 2018.

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Driving risks Americans take most

Now that we know Americans regularly commit multiple unsafe driving behaviors, which ones are the most common? Perhaps unsurprisingly, 57% of respondents admitted to changing the radio or navigation.

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Taking your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel to tamper with the radio is a dangerous distraction. Luckily there are safer options in most cars today — steering-wheel controls allow you to change the tunes without risking your safety.

The second most common unsafe driving habit is eating behind the wheel. A surprising 37% of respondents admitted to it — an action that can increase the likelihood of getting into a crash or near-miss collision by 39%.

Other common unsafe behaviors drivers admitted to included speeding (24%) and sending text messages while driving (9%). Given that these behaviors are widely acknowledged to be unsafe — speeding alone causes almost 10,000 annual fatalities — it's surprising that respondents admitted to them while simultaneously rating themselves as very safe drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately 481,000 passenger vehicles being driven by someone using a cell phone at any given time. These and other distracted behaviors can lead to deadly consequences.

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Esurance uses technology to help drivers stay safe

Overall, our survey showed that Americans consider themselves to be safe drivers, but often don't recognize that the things they are doing behind the wheel are inherently unsafe. To bridge this gap, Esurance is helping drivers better understand which of their own driving behaviors are risky so they can improve.

For example, to get a more accurate idea of how safely you're driving, Esurance offers DriveSense®, a mobile app that tracks your driving behaviors. DriveSense logs your driving patterns, and gives you trip tips and weekly recaps. It tells you when your driving is awesome. And also when it's not so awesome. But not in a judgy way. Just as a heads up to help you drive safer.

As an added plus, if you're an Esurance customer, you can earn a discount on your insurance policy based on how safely you drive.* Basically, the safer you drive, the more you could save.

In addition to signing up for DriveSense (which you can get even if you're not an Esurance customer), there are several simple changes you can make to become a safer driver, including:

  • Put your phone on do not disturb or turn it off completely while driving.
  • Plan to eat before or after driving.
  • Create a car playlist with a run-time long enough for your drive, and put it on before you begin driving.
  • Plan your route beforehand to avoid having to change the navigation. If you must change your route, pull over first.
  • Store all items that could roll around in your glove compartment or trunk to avoid the need to reach for them.
  • Secure all pets and children in place before you get on the road.

At Esurance, we're committed to making our roads safer — all while making insurance surprisingly painless.


NSC | | CDC | NHTSA 1, 2 | Decide to Drive | Forbes


This study consisted of two survey questions conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. The survey ran during March 2019.

Related links

Distracted driving
Find out about the other main causes of distracted driving.

Texting and driving: the perfect storm
Find out how texting and driving combines all 3 types of distracted driving and learn which states are cracking down.

Good driving discounts for drivers
Driving safely pays. Staying off the cell phone to avoid accidents can lead to a clean driving record, which can lead to lower car insurance premiums.

Safe drivers should save more on insurance.

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