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Study Finds Drivers Distracted Up to Half the Time

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Texting while drivingPeople are distracted as much as half the time they’re driving, and as many as 15 to 25% of auto accidents are the result of distractions, especially cell phones used for talking or texting, according to a recently released study by The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Funded by State Farm Insurance, the study analyzed more than 350 research papers published since the year 2000. It is the first comprehensive overview to summarize distracted driving research for state officials.

The report found no conclusive evidence that the use of a hands-free cellphone is any less risky than hand-held use, although, as Jacqui Cheng writes in Wired:

[T]exting while driving was shown in one 2009 study to increase the risk of ‘safety-critical events’ to more than 23 times the normal level while driving. ‘No other distraction has even this much evidence for its effect on crash risk,’ wrote the GHSA.

GHSA’s Executive Director Barbara Harsha says, “Much of the research is incomplete or contradictory. Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it.” But the GHSA report says the research indicates that the following facts are certainties:

  • Distractions affect driving performance.
  • Drivers frequently are distracted, perhaps as much as half the time.
  • Drivers adapt to some extent: they pay more attention to driving and reduce their distracting activities in more risky driving situations.
  • Distractions are estimated to be associated with 15 to 25% of crashes at all levels from minor property damage to fatal injury.
  • Texting likely increases crash risk more than cell phone use.
  • Cell phone use increases crash risk.

The GHSA urges states to:

  • Monitor the impact of hand-held cell phones before enacting new laws until research is more definitive.
  • Record distracted-driving incidents in crash reports to assist with evaluating laws and programs.
  • Evaluate other states’ distracted driving laws and countermeasures to determine which are the most effective.
  • Continue to take low-cost roadway countermeasures like providing edge-line and center-line rumble strips that alert distracted drivers when they’re drifting out of lane.
  • Enact a texting ban for all drivers and a complete cell phone ban (both hand-held and hands-free) for novice drivers.
  • Enforce existing cell phone and texting laws.
  • Implement distracted driving communication programs.
  • Help employers to develop and implement such programs.

As Barry Levine writes in Top Tech News:

Currently, several high visibility texting and hand-held cell phone crackdown projects are underway in New York and Connecticut, funded by the states and the federal government and modeled after the Click It or Ticket seat belt enforcement program. The study noted that the preliminary results of these demonstration enforcement projects indicate ‘dramatic declines in hand-held cell phone use and texting behind the wheel.’

Image by mrJasonWeaver (Jason Weaver), used under its Creative Commons license.


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