The presence of distractions as wide-ranging as makeup and mobile phones has caused drivers to pay less and less attention to the road, causing an increased number of accidents. Indeed, in a recent study, a full 80% of accidents were shown to be caused by some form of distracted driving.
Drivers’ Habits and Increased Risks
In order to study the effects of distracted driving on motorists of all ages, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute recruited 241 drivers, ranging in age from 18 to 73 years of age. These drivers’ vehicles were then fully outfitted with a number of technological gadgets to monitor and record their behavior, reaction rate, speed, location, and other factors.
The Virginia Tech students installed five cameras, both inside and outside the participants’ cars, as well as custom-developed onboard computer systems, radar devices to monitor the drivers’ speed, and even GPS tracking devices to inform the students of where the vehicle was, how fast it was going, and how far it had traveled. The results returned by these devices, of course, showed that all kinds of activities increased the accident rate while decreasing motorists’ attention behind the wheel.
Distractions Increase Accident Risks and Rates
The students and faculty conducting the study were able to use the data recorded by the cameras, radar devices, and GPS systems to effectively create a list of common activities aligned with how likely those activities were to cause an accident. The findings indicated that the most dangerous activity a driver can do while behind the wheel is to simply swat at a fly, try to pick up a dropped item, or look around for a mobile device in the car’s center console.
Drivers who were distracted in one of these three ways were 9 times more likely to cause an accident than a normal driver who was not distracted in any way. That’s a significant increase in risk, and it poses a major danger to fellow motorists. But it’s not the only activity which puts drivers in a significant amount of danger.
Researchers also found that drivers who looked at an object – such as a smart phone’s bright screen or a roadside attraction – were 3.7 times more likely to cause an accident than those drivers whose attention was fully focused on the road. While this risk is significantly less than the risk posed by looking for a lost item or swatting at a bug in the vehicle, it’s still a significant danger to commuters.
Mobile phone conversations were surprisingly shown to have the same effect on drivers as a conversation with a fellow passenger; however, a mobile phone typically involves looking for the ringing mobile phone in order to answer it, or picking the phone up and glancing at it in order to dial a friend’s number. And it is that act – not the talking – which is the most lethal aspect of distracted driving. If users were to pull over in order to answer or place a call and continue the call as they drive, it’s a reasonable assumption that the roads might be a much safer place.
Distracted Driving Crashes
There is minimal evidence supporting the notion that handheld phone bans mitigate accidents. This is in spite of evidence that shows handheld phone use while driving has a significant effect on driver performance, and that bans themselves can have a large impact on phone use. Moreover, handheld bans had little to no effect on the number of insurance claims. This is based on extensive research of the 4 jurisdictions that instituted bans on handheld phone use before and after the laws were put into effect.
These figures are likely due to the fact that many drivers either defy the ban or switch to hands-free cell phones. Given that there is no discernible difference between using hands-free and handheld cell phones, eliminating the use of handhelds does little to rectify the problem. Furthermore, a law prohibiting the use of a hands-free cell phone would be difficult to enforce without police cars engaging in prolonged observation of a suspect, and may do little to curb actual usage. In fact, according to surveys, 18% of drivers living in states with universal bans are unaware that such a law even exists. The percentage climbed to 48% with regard to bans on texting. Only a quarter of individuals living in these states who were aware of the restrictions felt they were being adequately enforced.
Efforts to Prevent Distracted Driving
Given the demographics of pervasive cell phone use, it should come as no surprise that most of the bans on cell phone-based distracted driving target new and younger drivers – typically those under the age of 20. In the United States, 38 states plus the District of Columbia have some sort of ban on mobile phone use in vehicles operated by drivers under the age of 18.
Other states require mobile phones to be used in a hands-free manner while on the road, typically using a connected earbud or Bluetooth headset. The increasing presence of Bluetooth in newer cars has allowed for conversations that occur over the car’s speakers, and these systems also make it possible for voice-dialed and voice-answered calls. Because it is the dialing and answering of calls that pose the biggest risk to distracted motorists, this technological development is the best way to ensure motorists’ safety if they insist on taking a call.
In addition to these technologies and laws, many newer vehicles are shipping with advanced devices that monitor a driver’s speed and reaction time, and adjust their brake pressure accordingly. This can help with sudden stops in the event of distracted driving, and it ensures greater driver safety in other dangerous situations, as well. More pervasive airbags, stability control, and enhanced onboard computers are all helping to compensate for the increased incidence of driver distraction.
Distractions A Serious Problem for Drivers
Distracted driving is the cause of 80% of all accidents on the road, and simply looking for a mobile phone while driving a vehicle makes a driver nine times more likely to cause an accident. With statistics like that, it’s easy to see why new laws and technologies are aggressively targeting drivers who pay more attention to their text messages than to the road.