Study Shows Dangerous Distracted Driving Trend
While drivers were paying more attention to their phones, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was counting them as they drove by. New research shows that motorists are talking on their cell phones less than before but have replaced that bad behavior with one potentially more dangerous: clicking the buttons on those smartphones.
A 2018 IIHS study showed that drivers on Virginia highways were 57 percent more likely to be using their phone screens than they were in the previous survey year, 2014. About 3.4 percent of drivers watched were manipulating their phones, up from 2.3 percent four years earlier. Meanwhile, the number of drivers who seemed to be talking on their cell phones declined, from 4.1 percent of drivers in 2014 to 2.8 four years later.
Colorado Combats Distracted Driving
Distracted driving leads to an estimated 40 auto accidents in Colorado each day. In 2016, it had a role in the deaths of 67 motorists, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) says. In response, the state increased the penalty for distracted driving (first offense) from $50 and one point on a driver’s record to $300 and four points in June 2017. Since then, the agency has been leading an ongoing publicity campaign to curb drivers who let distractions get in the way, whether it be from mobile devices, car radios, or passengers.
About 22 percent of Colorado drivers surveyed by CDOT admit to having read text messages while driving. About 64 percent clicked on their smartphone buttons to play music or other entertainment, while 33 percent said they talked on their phones while driving.
800 U.S. Deaths Tied to Trend
Texting or otherwise manipulating cell phones contributed to more than 800 roadway deaths in the United States in 2017, IIHS estimates. Nevertheless, that grim figure is only a fraction of the nation’s overall roadway death toll, about 37,000 people. IIHS extrapolated the 800 figure by assuming that the drivers across the U.S. have been behaving the same way that the Virginia drivers did in their recent count. Then the statisticians used other research showing that your risk of having a fatal crash is 66 percent higher when you’re manipulating a phone.
Behavior Divides Drivers’ Attention
Using a cell phone to surf the web, text, or select music, for instance, changes the way drivers scan the road ahead of them and process that information, IIHS says. To do these things, drivers need to take their eyes off of the road, whereas drivers who are simply talking on the phone tend to focus their eyes on the road ahead. And while that’s better than looking away, it still divides their attention, making it more difficult to process what’s happening on the road.
The IIHS observers saw that about 23 percent of drivers were engaged in some sort of distracting activity. These include: Talking on a handheld cell phone, manipulating a phone in their hands, simply holding a cell phone, wearing a Bluetooth earpiece or headset with a microphone, manipulating their cars’ dashboards, using another type of mobile device, talking or singing, eating or drinking, smoking, grooming, and various other activities besides purely driving.
David Kidd, one of the researchers responsible for the study, said:
“The latest data suggest that drivers are using their phones in riskier ways … The observed shift in phone use is concerning because studies consistently link manipulating a cell phone while driving to increased crash risk.”