Distracted Driving by the Numbers

It's Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and Quoted wanted to know: Where exactly do we stand on the issue?

girl texting while driving

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, and Quoted is here with a safety State of the Union. Though you may feel weighed down by all of the Such-and-Such Months we are asked to observe (though Zombie Awareness Month is clearly essential), driving accidents are still the leading cause of deaths for Americans aged 5-34, and the leading non-illness cause of death overall. Technology often advances more quickly than legislation, so while many driving activities may still be legal in many places, it doesn’t mean they’re safe. Let’s take a closer look at how we’re all doing with driving safety, and consider ways we can all make the roadways a little safer.

First, the Phones

Not surprisingly, most traffic safety groups in the US focus on cell phones and other electronic devices when talking about driving safety. As little as fifteen years ago, cell phones were rare, and service even rarer, especially while driving. If you wanted to listen to music, your choices were radio, tape, or CD—no i-Anything to fiddle with and take attention away from the road (though, those of us old enough to remember driving in the Dark Ages had our share of reaching for items dropped on the floor, looking down to find the right radio station, flipping through our CD cases, and other such distracted driving mistakes. These and other distractions (eating, applying make-up, smoking) are of course still contributing to crashes, but there is no doubt that the technologies that allow us to remain constantly connected—and constantly reachable—add another dimension of danger to the roads.

Technology isn’t the only distraction behind the wheel.

Distracted Driving Statistics

Some more (horrifying) stats from the folks at EndDD.org:

  • 100 People die every day in car crashes.
  • About 26 percent of all crashes involve cell phone use—including hands-free technologies.
  • Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times greater than driving without distraction.

How much are US drivers paying attention?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in America, at any daylight moment, approximately 660,000 drivers are diverting their attention away from driving by using phones and other electronic devices. This number hasn’t changed since 2010, despite increased public safety interventions and greater driver awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. So this year, driving safety councils are upping their game and asking each one of us to pledge to drive more safely. Here’s why:

The National Safety Council compiled the latest studies about drivers who make calls and text while driving, and the information is frightening. Most states require hands-free devices (earpiece, speakerphone, or dashboard system) for drivers using a phone, and most Americans agree it’s safer—the National Safety Council reports that while eighty percent of Americans believe hands-free is safer—over 30 studies prove that the brain remains just as distracted either way. Though both phone and car manufacturers have worked hard to address physical distraction (with hands-free built-in, and voice-only features), it turns out the real problem remains: mental distraction. We all know we shouldn’t text and drive, and it’s illegal in all but 12 states, but many of the still-legal features created to improve safety aren’t any better. It turns out that though hands-free technology built into dashboards may decrease physical distraction, it actually increases mental distraction. More scary facts from the NSC:

  • Voice texting is more distracting than using your hands to text while driving, and doing either will result in reaction times that are twice as slow.
  • Drivers looking out the windshield may miss seeing up to half of their surroundings while talking on the phone, including pedestrians, traffic lights, and road signs.
  • Activity in the area of the brain that processes moving images decreases by up to a third when using a phone.
Voice texting is more distracting than using your hands to text.

How drivers can improve:

Driving isn’t just about seeing and physically manipulating the vehicle: it takes thought, too. So make an effort to avoid behaviors that pull your thought elsewhere. The NHTSA has other great tips to prevent distracted driving:

  • Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.
  • Be good role models for young drivers and set a good example. Talk with your teens about responsible driving.
  • Speak up when you are a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving. Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against other unsafe drivers.

Anyone who works in a physically dangerous or mentally draining job can tell you: The human mind can get used to anything, and eventually habituates to even dangerous or disturbing things. Surgeons become used to seeing blood, second grade teachers become used to screaming seven year olds, fire dancers become used to fire. The same holds for driving: Most of us do it daily and have since we were young teenagers. We may feel confident in our driving abilities, and while that’s great, it’s easy to forget that driving is serious, mentally taxing, and can be very dangerous. Careening down the highway in a two-ton metal box takes constant physical and mental attention, and anything that takes either away will absolutely increase the chances of a crash; there’s no getting around it. Piles of research studies have shown that using phones—in any capacity—isn’t safe, no matter how you engage with them while behind the wheel.

We know New Years Resolution season is long over, but in honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we challenge you to drive more aware and less distracted. Tell us in the comments: How will you up your driving safety game?