Distracted Driving: Peril of the Road

Distracted driving is a serious danger for American drivers. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) shows that distracted driving was involved in crashes that caused 5,870 people’s deaths and about 500,000 injuries in 2008 alone.

cell phone driving distraction

Distracted driving on the part of at least one driver is frequently responsible for vehicle accidents. It is not just civilians who are guilty of distracted driving; professional drivers of tractor-trailers are as well. According to results from the Large-Truck Crash Causation Study, an estimated 2 percent of the 1,000 heavy-truck fatal and injury crashes were associated with distraction inside the commercial truck. The odds in this study may seem low, but, due to the debilitating and often fatal injuries in trucking accidents, even a small percentage is a serious matter.

Distracted Driving Defined

According to Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do, a report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), distracted driving is split into four types:

  • Visual – looking at something other than the road
  • Auditory – hearing something not related to driving
  • Manual – manipulating something other than the wheel
  • Cognitive – thinking about something other than driving

Often more than one type of distraction occurs at once. The definition of distraction, based on the report from GHSA, refers to anything that a driver deliberately pays attention to that is not related to operating the vehicle and that uses the driver’s eyes, ears or hands.

According to the study by GHSA, at least one driver was reported to have been distracted in 15 to 30 percent of crashes. Data is not yet compiled on the breakdown of what kind of distractions contribute to the most accidents, however it is mentioned in the study that texting is even more dangerous than talking on a cell phone.

Distracted Driving Statistics

According to a 2002 NHTSA survey of over 4,000 drivers, most drivers engaged in some distracting activities:

  • 81 percent talked to other passengers
  • 66 percent changed radio stations or looked for CDs
  • 49 percent ate or drank something
  • 24 percent dealt with children riding in the rear seat
  • 12 percent read a map or directions
  • 8 percent engaged in personal grooming
  • 4 percent read printed material

The research was conducted in 2002, when only 25 percent of drivers reported making phone calls. Self-reported cell phone usage has increased dramatically since 2002.

How to Reduce Distracted Driving

There are many laws in place and under consideration regarding distractions such as cell phone usage for calls and texting. However, there is limited research regarding most distractions including cell phone calls, texting, handheld music devices, the radio, food/drink, etc.

According to the GHSA study, laws banning hand-held cell phone usage reduced use by about half when they were first implemented. The report suggests four steps for states to take to reduce crashes associated with distracted driving:

  • Continue to implement effective low-cost roadway distracted driving countermeasures such as rumble strips.
  • Record distracted driving in crash reports to the best extent possible, to assist in evaluating distracted driving laws and programs.
  • Monitor the impact of existing hand-held cell phone bands prior to enacting new laws.
  • Evaluate other distracted driving laws and programs.

Additionally employers can implement distracted driving policies and programs for employees. And the automobile industry can continue to develop and install measures to manage driver workload and warn drivers of risky situations. Individually, Americans can lower the risks associated with distracted driving by

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