Image: Businessman devouring fries while driving © Ryan McVay, Photodisc, Getty Images

Well-educated, well-off American drivers say they've suffered the consequences of distracted driving more than other motorists, from getting a ticket to getting involved in a major accident, according to a poll commissioned by InsuranceQuotes.com.

The poll, by GfK Roper, a division of GfK Custom Research North America, shows how universal distracted driving has become: Ninety-three percent of drivers report they engage in it somehow, whether by texting, talking on a cellphone -- or even kissing.

All that distraction has consequences: Four in 10 American adults who are licensed motorists acknowledge that being distracted while driving caused them to swerve into another lane, slam on the brakes, get a ticket, almost get into an accident or have a wreck.

That number rose to 49% for drivers who have college degrees and 43% for drivers who earn at least $75,000 a year. Those are the highest numbers among drivers from all income and education levels covered in the poll.

Del Lisk, vice president of safety services at DriveCam, which specializes in driver risk management, says well-to-do, well-educated drivers likely exhibit the same traits as a classic impatient "Type A" personality who's engaged in many activities.

"Because this person has lots of things going on in his or her life, I suspect they also have a lot more temptation to conduct distracting activities," Lisk says. "They probably have a higher volume of phone and email correspondence than other folks -- and they don't want to wait until after the drive to address it."

As for the consequences of distracted driving, well-off, well-educated drivers generally report more instances of everything from veering out of a lane to getting in a serious accident than do other drivers:

  • 41% of well-educated drivers and 35% of high-income drivers say they've swerved out of their lane as a result of distracted driving, versus 32% of all drivers polled.
  • 37% of drivers with a college degree and 33% in the highest income bracket report slamming on their brakes because of driving distractions, compared with 29% of all motorists polled.
  • 26% of well-educated drivers and 22% of well-off drivers indicate that distracted driving caused them to nearly get into an accident, compared with 18% of all drivers polled.
  • 22% of well-educated drivers and 18% of high-income drivers admit they've been ticketed as a result of distracted driving. That compares with 12% of all drivers polled.
  • 20% of well-educated drivers and 16% of well-off drivers say they've been involved in a minor accident because of distracted driving, compared with 11% of all motorists polled.
  • 17% of well-educated motorists and 13% of high-income drivers have been in a serious accident attributed to distracted driving, versus 8% of all drivers polled.

Lisk says well-to-do, well-educated drivers probably don't associate the risks of distracted driving with their own behavior.

"They may or may not see activities such as use of a cellphone or texting as dangerous but probably feel that it's a bigger issue for other drivers," Lisk says. "Remember, these are confident, successful people. Unlike others, they feel they can do it and be relatively safe. It's the classic 'It can't happen to me' syndrome.

Leon James, a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii who has studied driver behavior, calls well-off, well-educated drivers "pioneers" whose actions behind the wheel are mirrored by other drivers, "as everyone is propelled by the habit of self-centered competition."

"Educated and well-paid individuals tend to be busy all day, and this attitude continues in the car," James says. "Multitasking and fatigue are chief causes of distracted driving."

Music, food cause most driving distractions

Well-to-do, well-educated drivers scored the highest in almost every "distracted" category of the poll:

  • 92% of highly educated drivers and 95% of high-income drivers say they've adjusted a radio, CD player or iPod while driving. That compares with 87% of all of the adult drivers who were polled.
  • 83% of highly educated and high-income drivers acknowledge they've eaten while behind the wheel, compared with 77% of all respondents.
  • 80% of highly educated drivers and 85% of high-income drivers say they've talked on a cellphone while steering. The figure was 74% for all drivers.
  • 39% of highly educated drivers and high-income drivers admit to kissing or engaging in other romantic physical contact while in the driver's seat. That compares with the 29% of all drivers who acknowledge they've been amorous behind the wheel.
  • 33% of highly educated and high-income drivers say they've read while driving, versus 20% of all drivers polled.

In two polling categories -- sending or receiving a text message, and lighting up a cigarette, cigar or pipe -- well-educated and well-paid drivers were behind other subgroups.

Seventy percent of drivers age 18 to 24 copped to texting while driving. For drivers earning at least $75,000 a year, the figure was 52%; for drivers with a college degree, it was 50%. The number was 39% for all drivers polled.

As for lighting up, drivers earning less than $20,000 edged out the highest income bracket, 57% to 41%. Overall, 43% of the drivers polled said they'd lit up while driving.

In terms of age, drivers 18 to 24 pulled ahead in the text-messaging category (70%); drivers 25 to 34 led the pack for talking on a cellphone (84%), kissing or other amorous activity (42%), reading (34%) and applying makeup (22%); and drivers 35 to 49 swept the categories for adjusting a radio, CD player or iPod (90%), eating (82%) and lighting up (48%).