An Aug. 6 Metro article about a study of Maryland drivers incorrectly stated that AAA Mid-Atlantic said motorists who have not slept in 24 hours have the same cognitive abilities as those with a blood alcohol level of 0.2. The level is 0.1. (Published 8/15/2005)

A new study delivers some sobering news to Marylanders: More of the state's motorists are encountering aggressive drivers than a year ago, and increasing numbers of drivers are concerned about drunken driving, speeding, seat belt usage, cell phone use and drowsy drivers.

More than half of Maryland drivers say the state legal system is too lenient on drunk drivers, according to the study. And the number of motorists concerned about underage drunken driving shot up 10 percentage points in the past year, to 86 percent.

The survey of 850 randomly selected state drivers, conducted annually by the University of Maryland on behalf of the Maryland State Highway Administration, comes after a rash of fatal accidents across the region involving young drivers.

Last week, a 19-year-old Germantown woman was killed when her car crashed into the rear of a tow truck in Bethesda. The week before, three men in their early twenties died when their car went off a road in Charles County. Police attributed that accident to high speed and driver error.

Researchers found that motorists ages 16 to 29 are more than twice as likely to drive after having too much to drink as drivers older than 30, even though younger drivers are more likely than older motorists to believe that they will be pulled over by police for driving under the influence.

Kenneth H. Beck, the study's author and a professor at the university's Department of Public and Community Health, said drunken driving tends to be the province of younger people.

"It's that 21- to 29-year-old driver," he said. "When they first become legally able to purchase alcohol, boom, they do."

Increasing fear of underage drunken driving is being felt at some driving academies, including Greg's Driving School in Gaithersburg.

"I think it's on the back burner of all parents' minds when they sign up their children for driver's education," owner Mary Moore said.

Drowsy driving is another major concern for Maryland motorists. The study showed that 21 percent of those surveyed have driven while drowsy. AAA Mid-Atlantic is drawing parallels between drowsy driving and drunken driving, saying motorists who have not slept in 24 hours have the same cognitive abilities as those with a blood alcohol level of 0.2.

"Many times, drowsy drivers drive as poorly -- if not more so -- than someone who's drunk," AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella said.

Early yesterday, a tractor-trailer crossed the median of Route 50 in Easton, Md., and crashed into 13 parked cars, causing authorities to close the highway for about eight hours. Police indicate the driver fell asleep at the wheel, and AAA is using the crash to remind drivers of the hazards of drowsy driving.

Still, the biggest concern among Maryland motorists seems to be speeding and aggressive driving. About 94 percent of state drivers surveyed consider them critical safety concerns, a slight increase from last year, the study said.

David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said the increase may be because people believe that traffic is a personal issue.

"I think the driving habits of folks, whether it's because they sit in congestion, whether they try to make up time on the road or whether people just completely ignore any traffic laws, just defy any reasonable sense of good driving," Buck said.