Americans are wearing seat belts more, but driving faster. They are more concerned about fat intake, but two thirds don't exercise even three times a week.

And while a record number of adults -- 72 percent -- say they do not smoke, 30 percent say they drink and drive at least occasionally.

Overall, concludes a Louis Harris survey done for Prevention magazine, Americans are more concerned about their health and are working harder to take care of themselves. Yet health experts say there is room for improvement.

In the health magazine's second annual survey of Americans' eating, sleeping, drinking, exercise and health care habits, a demographically representative sampling of 1,253 adults was interviewed.

Using an index of 21 "health-seeking behaviors" -- like restricting sugar consumption and getting regular dental care -- the Harris poll found that Americans practice more preventive health care measures than they did one year ago:

* Seventy-four percent say they are taking steps to control stress in their lives, up 11 percentage points from last year. But 59 percent say they feel under great stress at least once a week.

* Eighty-one percent say they take specific steps to avoid accidents in and around the home, a nine-point rise from last year.

* Seventy-four percent say they have a smoke detector, a seven-point increase over last year.

* Fifty-nine percent say they "try a lot" to avoid eating too much fat, an increase of four points.

While many of the survey results are encouraging, Americans still engage in unhealthy behavior:

* Only 23 percent of Americans over 24 are within their recommended weight range, and only 43 percent restrict cholesterol in their diets.

* Only 27 percent of Americans wear seat belts regularly, although 40 percent more say they wear seat belts this year than last.

* Less than half of American women routinely examine their breasts, although breast cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in women.

* Twenty-eight percent still smoke cigarettes, and the rate of smoking among women is now equal to that of men.

In general, the survey indicated, Americans take better care of their children than of themselves:

* Adults scored only 63.2 out of a possible 100 in the overall health care index, but their children scored 75. The survey relied on parents to report the habits of their children.

* Eight-seven percent of surveyed adults said that they regularly drank alchohol in moderate amounts, but 80 percent of women said they did not drink at all during pregnancy.

* Eighty percent of women said they did not smoke during pregnancy.

* Seventy percent of parents restrict sugar intake for their children, while 47 percent restrict it for themselves.

But in the area health care experts said is most important for child welfare -- use of seat belts -- American parents did relatively poorly. Only 43 percent reported buckling up their kids.

Results further indicated that younger Americans, older Americans, those with children, those with higher incomes, and those with more education were the most likely to be concerned about preventive health measures.

"One need for the future is to reach out to those who are less aware," said Michael Kagay, a Harris official. "New ideas catch on with the more advantaged first, and then will hopefully affect everyone else."