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Are Americans less vigilant drivers?

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LM Otero/AP/File

(Read caption) Traffic stacks up on a highway in Dallas.

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For several years, traffic fatality rates in the U.S. have been falling, reaching historic lows. Though there's some disagreement about the reasons for the decline, most credit improved safety features on automobiles (e.g. electronic stability control) and improved driving habits (e.g. wider disapproval of drinking and driving).

But the good news could be coming to an abrupt halt. The federal government's preliminary report on 2012 fatality rates suggests an increase of 5.3 percent, and the folks at AAA think they know what's behind the uptick: you've stopped caring

Every year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety polls thousands of Americans to gauge their attitudes on driving habits and traffic safety issues. The Foundation recently analyzed four years worth of data compiled between 2009 and 2012, and the findings are a little disturbing: 

Bottom line: if these surveys are accurate, it appears that Americans are becoming less vigilant drivers. And while the shift in attitudes hasn't been officially linked to the expected rise in traffic fatalities (final numbers for 2012 should arrive in December), it can't be helping.

Have we become desensitized to these driving dangers? Have improvements from automakers led us to throw caution to the wind and say, "If anything happens, the airbags will save me!"? Have cuts in education and outreach programs made us forget the information that was drilled into our heads for so many years?

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