Distracted driving continues to be a major problem in the United States and other countries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in 2015. Another 391,000 persons were injured in motor vehicle crashes where someone was identified as a distracted driver.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that distracted driving kills eight people in the U.S. every day.
What is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is not only related to cell phone use. It involves any activity that diverts attention away from safe driving and may include:
• Texting or talking on the phone while driving
• Eating and drinking while driving
• Talking to people in your vehicle while driving
• Fiddling with the stereo or radio
• Adjusting your navigation system
• Using social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat and others.
The experts say any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of being involved in a crash.
Some studies point out that driving with hands-free devices isn’t risk-free as was once thought and that distracted driving compares to drunk driving in terms of impairment of the driver.
The National Safety Council (NSC) describes a hands-free device as a handset that communicates via wire or wireless technology with a phone, or a factory-installed or after-market feature built into vehicles. It often includes voice recognition. Many hands-free devices permit voice-activated dialing and operation as well.
Hands-free devices are seen as a solution to risks of driver distraction. One perceived solution is visual—the driver can talk on the phone without looking away from the road and he or she does not have to remove their hands from the steering wheel. But another type of distraction can still be present while using a hands-free device—cognitive distraction– taking your mind off the road.
People typically do not realize when they are cognitively distracted, therefore, the risk lasts much longer. The NSC has compiled more than 30 research studies and reports by scientists around the world who used a variety of research methods to compare driver performance while driving using handheld and hands-free phones. All of these studies show hands-free phones offer no safety benefit.
There is cognitive distraction and numerous driving impairments resulting from paying attention to conversation and from listening and responding to a disembodied voice.
Multi-Tasking and Driving
Scientists explain that although multi-tasking is valued in our culture because it allegedly increases the productivity of a worker and makes one appear capable of performing many tasks at once, it is not really what it seems. People often think they are accomplishing two tasks at the same time and they may complete a phone conversation and arrive at their destination without incident. However, people do not actually “multi-task”—they do not accomplish two tasks or even three or four tasks at the same time because they do not accomplish the tasks with optimal focus and effectiveness.
The brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between one task and another. A healthy human brain can juggle tasks very rapidly which leads people to believe they are doing two or more tasks at the same time. In reality, the brain is switching between the tasks, performing one task at a time.
Distracted Driving vs. Driving Drunk
In a 2006 study by The University of Utah, researchers recorded the impairment level of drivers who were using cell phones versus people who were intoxicated while driving. The researchers used a driving simulator and studied 49 adults ranging in age from 22 to 45. The researchers obtained data using baseline driver results. They then looked at the group of operators driving while using cell phones. Next, they looked at data from those driving with blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08 percent (legally drunk for those 21 and over) over a three-day period.
The researchers found that regardless of whether or not the drivers were using hands-free or handheld devices, the cell phone users showed greater levels of driver impairment than the drivers intoxicated by alcohol.
In a 2016 article in The National Law Review, written by Steven M. Sweat, Sweat wrote that the states have yet to catch up to the dangers posed by some forms of distracted driving. A majority of states treat texting while driving or using social media apps while driving as a minor infraction with minimal fines, Sweat contended. By contrast, he points out, Alaska treats texting and driving very seriously and violations carry penalties as great or greater than those penalties for various levels of drunk driving offenses.
Young Drivers Report Highest Level of Phone Involvement in Crashes
Like older drivers, most young drivers do not think that talking on a phone while driving affects their driving performance, the NHTSA reports. However, drivers under 25 were more aware than those in older age groups that they drift out of the lane or off the roadway when texting and driving. But, despite recognizing the dangers, the NHTSA said drivers under 25 are more likely to text while driving than all other age groups. Less than 1% of those 65 and older text and drive while 68% of drivers age 18 to 20 are willing to answer incoming phone calls while they are driving.
Seventeen percent of those 18 to 20 reported being involved in a crash or near-crash in the past year due to phone use while driving. Eight percent said they were sending texts and e-mails on their phone at the time. In the 25-34 age group, 10% of those involved in crashes or a near-crash said they were talking on a cell phone when the crash or near-crash occurred.
What is Being Done to Address The Problem?
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been leading the fight nationally against distracted driving by educating Americans about its dangers and partnering with the states and local police to enforce laws against distracted driving. The NHTSA’s campaigns include public service announcements and stories on Facebook and Twitter about the perils of texting and driving and other activities done while driving.
The NHTSA is also getting involved by zooming in on specific groups such as teens, parents, employers and educators. Local chapters of Students Against Destructive Decisions have been formed where teens are encouraged to have their friends sign a pledge to never drive distracted. The students are also asked to share messages on social media reminding friends, family, and neighbors not to make the choice to drive distracted. The statistics show that teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.
Parents are asked to lead by example—never driving distracted—and to have talks with young drivers in their family about distracted driving and all of the responsibilities that come with having a driver’s license. Parents are to ask everyone in the family who drives to sign a pledge not to drive distracted. Remind your teen that in states with graduated driver licensing, a violation of distracted driving laws could mean a delayed or suspended license.
Educators and Employers
Set a company policy on distracted driving, especially if the young person is working for you in a driving capacity (delivering pizza, etc.). Educators can ask students to commit to distraction-free driving and spread the word about its dangers.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to a distracted driver in Ohio, contact one of our personal injury attorneys today!
The source for much of this blog is the website, SR22Insurance.net, where there are numerous articles about the many aspects of distracted driving. An SR22 is an addendum to an insurance policy that is required by law of some drivers who have a drinking while driving offense or some other driving-related issue that marks them as high risk such as reckless driving or driving without insurance. Details on the SR22 vary from state to state.