DOT Survey: Distracted Driving on the Rise
A government-funded national phone survey on distracted driving attitudes and behaviors finds that distracted driving continues to increase, even though there are laws limiting the use of cell phones while driving, and despite messages warning that texting while driving can lead to car accidents.
The phone survey, sponsored by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and released on Thursday, interviewed 6,002 drivers 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia in November and December of 2010. Among its findings are that more than three-quarters of drivers will answer a mobile phone call while driving. About two out of 10 drivers (18%) reported that they have sent text messages or emails while driving, and about half (49%) of those, 21 to 24 years old, said they do so.
More than half of those surveyed believe that using a cell phone or sending a text message or email makes no difference in their driving performance. However, 90% of those surveyed said they would feel “very unsafe” if the driver of a car they were in was talking on a hand-held phone or texting, or mailing while driving.
According to the survey, whose authors are Julie Tison, Neil Chaudhary, and Linda Cosgrove:
Where gender, age, and income differences exist, males and younger respondents tend to underestimate the negative effects that cell phone use has on driving. Those in the upper income tier ($100,000/year or more) tend to report higher incidences of cell phone use while driving and perceive such behavior as safer than do those in the lower income tiers. Overall, most drivers report that driving becomes more dangerous when they take their eyes off the road for more than 2 seconds, and this is related to age. About one-third of drivers 18 to 24 years old said they can take their eyes off the road for 3 to 10 seconds or more before driving becomes significantly more dangerous.
As CNN’s Mike M. Ahlers writes on TheDenverChannel.com:
NHTSA said there’s evidence that 3,092 deaths — one-tenth of all roadway fatalities last year — involved distracted drivers, although they believe the actual number may be far higher. Determining the cause of distracted driving fatalities is difficult, authorities said, because there frequently are not witnesses, and the distracted driver may be dead.
Accordingly, officials Thursday also unveiled a new measurement of fatalities which — to be called ‘distraction-affected crashes’ — that they say will help them follow trends and focus research in the future.
The old method, used to estimate 2009 distracted driving deaths, included a broader range of indicators, including cases of ‘careless driving,’ and cases in which a mobile phone was found in a car, even if there was no evidence it was being used.
But the new methodology focuses more narrowly ‘on crashes in which a driver was most likely to have been distracted,’ NHTSA said.
Two separate studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that bans on hand-held cellphones and on texting had not reduced crashes, reports Larry Copeland in USA TODAY. “While there’s no question that cellphone use and especially texting by drivers is distracting, there’s no evidence that laws enacted so far have cut crashes,” IIHS spokesman Russ Rader said.
On a hopeful note, an Associated Press article in The Washington Post says NHTSA reports that pilot projects in Syracuse, NY, and Hartford, CT — in which police increased ticketing of drivers using cell phones for texting or talking, along with high-profile public education campaigns — have significantly reduced distracted driving.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is urging Congress to enact a national law against texting while driving, Copeland wrote, adding, “Distracted driving has been LaHood’s signature issue.” On Thursday, LaHood wrote on his blog, Fast Lane, “Now, many readers know I’ve been on a rampage to end distracted driving on our roadways, and America’s distracted driving epidemic has not gone away. Much to the contrary, we have more work to do in reminding people that one text or call could wreck it all.”
Image by stoptextstopwrecks.org, used under Fair Use: Reporting.