Distracted Driving Accidents Increased Last Year

According to the SR22 Agency, distracted driving accidents increased last year. 424,000 people were injured, up from 421,000 the previous year. Distracted driving includes far more than texting at the wheel, which is still the most widespread and dangerous distraction.  Other common distractions include:

  • Any use of a mobile phone or smart phone, including, but not limited to: texting, calling, browsing the web, etc.;
  • Drinking and eating at the wheel;
  • Talking to the other people in the car;
  • Personal grooming, like putting on makeup or brushing your hair at the wheel;
  • Any use of non-essential technology, like using the GPS system, watching videos, fiddling with the controls on the radio/MP3 player/CD player, etc.

Despite the well publicized dangers of distracted driving, many people still have not gotten the message; a disproportionately high number of distracted drivers are young.  The NHTSA says that 27% of all drivers who cause fatal accidents by driving distracted are under the age of 20.

My Take

The education curve on distracted driving seems to be much like the one on using seat belts a generation ago. Many people resisted them for a variety of reasons, including a young female friend of mine. I remember discussing the issue with her.  She felt that if she died in a car accident there would be nothing to worry about.  I pointed out to her that most accidents involve more than one car and that most accidents don’t include fatalities. I urged her to consider facial disfigurement as a larger risk. The next time I got in a car with her, she used her seat belt.

Perhaps we’re just talking to teens the wrong way. They may value looks more than life. They may see the possibility of a fatal injury as too remote given the seat belts, air bags and crumple zones built into cars these days.  Scars may represent a far larger deterrent.

The SR 22 site contains a number of educational videos that you may want to have your teens watch.

The Dark Side of Cell Phones: Traffic Accidents

shutterstock_54292804What discussion of media impacts of life would be complete without looking at the relationship between cell phones and traffic accidents.  Cell phones were originally seen as on-the-road safety devices. Ironically, today The National Safety Council, CDC, U.S. Department of Transportation and World Health Organization  recognize them as one of the leading causes of traffic accidents.

The National Safety Council estimates that at least 23 percent of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.3 million crashes – involve cell phone use per year. An estimated 1.2 million crashes each year involve drivers using cell phones for conversations and at least 100,000 additional crashes can be related to drivers who are texting. Cell phone conversations are involved in 12 times as many crashes as texting.

Researchers observing more than 1,700 drivers found that three out of every four drivers using a cell phone committed a traffic violation according to the National Safety Council. At any given daylight moment, they say that 9 percent of drivers are talking on phones (handheld and hands-free).

The National Safety Council report also indicates that talking on a cell phone while driving makes you four times more likely to crash, and texting while driving increases your chances of a crash by up to 8 to 23 times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that an average of 15 people are killed each day and more than 1,200 people are injured in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted drive. The CDC recognizes three main types of distraction:

  • Visual—taking your eyes off the road;
  • Manual—taking your hands off the wheel; and
  • Cognitive—taking your mind off what you are doing.

Distracted driving activities include (but are not limited to) things like using a cell phone and texting. The CDC says texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction. Younger, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 may be at highest risk because they have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes distracted driving as a serious and growing problem. With more and more people owning mobile phones, and the rapid introduction of new “in-vehicle” communication systems, they claim this problem is likely to escalate globally in the coming years.

WHO says drivers using mobile phones increase their accident risk by increasing their reaction times, inadvertently following too closely and swerving into adjacent traffic. They also claim that there is no conclusive evidence to show that hands-free phoning is any safer than hand-held phoning, because of the cognitive distraction involved with both types of phones.

The problem of distracted driving has become so serious that the U.S. Department of Transportation has set up a program to end it. See D!straction.gov to get the facts, get involved and see what the government recommends.