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Distracted Driving—Recent Study Shows It’s a Growing Danger

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Distracted driving is a growing danger on U.S. roadways.

According to a recent study, what’s causing us to crash has “shifted dramatically” in recent years, with driver-related factors—including error, impairment, fatigue, and distraction—present in nearly 90 percent of cases. Researchers added that their study results confirmed that “distraction is detrimental to driver safety, with handheld electronic devices having high use rates and risk.”

With April being national distracted driving month, the study reminds all drivers that distraction can be deadly.

Study Shows Distracted Driving Getting Worse

For the study, researchers collected data using multiple on board video cameras and sensors to help evaluate the risks leading up to a crash. A total of 905 crashes were evaluated to figure out what most often causes accidents. Scientists discovered that drivers were distracted more than 50 percent of the time, which doubled their risk of a crash. Nearly 70 percent of the crashes involved some type of distraction, which can include personal grooming, texting, eating, consulting with a GPS system, and more.

“These findings are important because we see a younger population of drivers, particularly teens, who are more prone to engaging in distracting activities while driving,” said lead author Tom Dingus. Without clear action to limit distracting activities behind the wheel, he added, the next generation will continue to be more at risk for crashes.

Indeed, according to government statistics, in 2014, a total of 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Meanwhile, despite increased awareness of the problem, distracted driving is still expanding. Drivers texting or using handheld devices behind the wheel increased from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014.

Teens Particularly Prone to Distraction

According to researchers, cell phones are by far the biggest problem. Just dialing a phone increased risk of an accident by a factor of 12, texting increased risk by a factor of 6, and talking on the phone more than doubled risk of a crash.

There are other issues as well. For instance, driving while feeling emotional, (sad or crying) was found to increase the risk of an accident by nearly 1,000 percent compared to “model” driving. Chatting in the front seat—if the driver is a teen—was also found to be dangerous, with teens apparently less able to multi-task in this way than adults.

The study also showed some surprising results about distractions that don’t seem to be as problematic as expected. Applying makeup, for example, or eating, didn’t seem to create increased risk of a crash, though researchers still suggest doing these activities while parked.

Researchers estimated that about 36 percent of crashes could be avoided if distractions were eliminated.

NHTSA Kicks Off National Distracted Driving Month

According to a recent press release from the NHTSA, federal, state, and local law enforcement “will be out raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving” throughout the month of April, along with a national law enforcement crackdown running from April 8 to April 13. Drivers caught texting or using mobile devices behind the wheel will be issued citations in states where these activities are banned.