Fatal Distractions

2013-05-08T00:00:00Z Fatal DistractionsBy Jim Gorzelany CTW Features nwitimes.com
May 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Don’t blame the phone or fast food, it seems we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to inattentive driving.

One in 10 of the more than 65,000 car crash-related fatalities that occurred during 2010 and 2011 were caused by distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington D.C. But while talking on the phone or text messaging is most often portrayed as being Public Enemy Number One in this regard, it’s not even close to being the top reason motorists lose focus behind the wheel.

That would be becoming “lost in thought,” with 62 percent of all distracted driving-related traffic fatalities caused by simple daydreaming.

Meanwhile, cell phone talking and texting came in second in the study, responsible for a still-significant 12 percent of all fatalities caused by inattentive motorists, with both statistics based on an analysis of NHTSA crash reports recently conducted by Erie Insurance in Erie, Penn. (see the full top-10 list in the accompanying box).

"Distracted driving is any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off your primary task of driving safely," says Doug Smith, Erie’s senior vice president of personal lines at Erie Insurance. "We looked at what law enforcement officers across the country reported when they filled out reports on fatal crashes and the results were disturbing.”

The results are especially disconcerting in that, unlike operating a cell phone while driving, most of the disruptions reported as being the underlying causes of fatal car wrecks would seem to be beyond regulation. It’s not likely that even a dystopian dictatorship would attempt to ban talking to other occupants or listening to music while driving.

Still, 10 states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit all motorists from using handheld cell phones while operating a motor vehicle, and 39 states forbid text messaging, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association in Washington, D.C., with additional states prohibiting both behaviors by novice drivers.

Despite such bans and widespread media campaigns to curb the rise of distracted driving, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of all licensed motorists recently surveyed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington, D.C. admitted to using a cell phone during the previous month while more than a third (35 percent) said they read a text or email while driving.

And as if using a cell phone or texting while driving wasn’t hazardous enough, the AAA’s research indicates that motorists who talk or text behind the wheel are more likely to engage in other types of hazardous driving behavior. Sixty-five percent of licensed drivers in the survey who said they often or regularly use their cell phones while driving also admitted to speeding during the previous month, 44 percent also reported driving while drowsy and 29 percent also said they’ve driven without fastening their seatbelt.

"What concerns AAA is this pattern of risky behavior that even goes beyond cell phone use," says Kathleen Bower, AAA’s vice president of public affairs. "These same cell phone-using drivers clearly understand the risk of distraction, yet are still likely to engage in a wide range of dangerous driving activities."

Of course, as in any such analysis the numbers can be skewed because of the reluctance of some people to report distracted-driving episodes. Still, it’s a stern reminder for all of us to realize the seriousness of the consequences of what might happen whenever any of us takes to the road.

© CTW Features


Driver Distractions Most Likely To Cause A Fatal Accident

1. Generally distracted or "lost in thought" (daydreaming): 62%.

2. Cell phone use (talking, listening, dialing, texting): 12%.

3. Paying attention to an outside person, object or event: 7%.

4. Interacting with other occupants: 5%.

5. Using or reaching for a device in the vehicle, such as a portable GPS system or headphones: 2%.

6. Eating or drinking: 2%.

7. Adjusting audio or climate controls: 2%.

8. Operating other in-vehicle device (adjusting the mirrors, seats, or using in-dash navigation system): 1%.

9. Moving object in vehicle, such as an insect or unrestrained pet: 1%.

10. Smoking-related (smoking, lighting up, putting ashes in ashtray): 1%.

Source: Erie Insurance analysis of NHTSA accident data, based on police reports from 2010 and 2011.

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