Distracted Driving

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that over 80 percent of teens use smartphones on a regular basis or that teens are the group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers. What may come as a surprise is the contradiction between a teen’s beliefs and their actions with regards to smartphone use.

In a 2013 survey conducted by SADD and Liberty Mutual insurance, 96 percent of teens understand that using a cell phone is distracting while driving but 86 percent of those same teens admit to talking a cell phone behind the wheel and 68 percent admit to reading or replying to text messages while driving!

Unfortunately, it’s not just survey data. The reality is much more grim. 16 percent of all drivers under 20 years old, who were involved in fatal crashes, were distracted in some way immediately prior to the crash. In fact, teen drivers are four-times more likely than adults to get into car crashes directly related to distracted driving primarily due to their lack of experience.

This is not to say that experienced adult drivers should take distractions for granted. Among all age groups, using a phone (of any kind and in any way) while driving, makes a driver 23-times more likely to cause a crash!

In a recent AAA study of the top ten causes of vehicles crashes, six (44.3 percent) were related to inattention. In another study of 11,878 drivers, 37% of driver’s took NO ACTION to avoid the crash!

Why is distracted driving so dangerous, even for experienced drivers with good records? The numbers within the traffic environment are overwhelming and the odds catch up even with the best drivers. Every two miles, a driver makes nearly 400 observations, 40 decisions, and one error! If that one error occurs at the same time as another driver’s one error, or pedestrian’s one error, or even at an unfortunate moment in time, the results could be tragic.

Drivers who are involved in a crash may say, “But . . . I only looked away for a second,” when in reality, they looked away for two or three seconds longer. The truth is that at 60 miles-per-hour, a vehicle travels 88 feet-per-second. Taking their eyes off the road for only three seconds means a driver has nearly travelled the length of a football field!

How do we define distracted driving? Simply put, it is ANY activity that could divert attention away from the primary task of driving.

Specifically speaking, common examples include personal grooming, eating and/or drinking, talking to passengers, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, or adjusting a radio/CD player/MP3 player. Generally speaking, there are there main types of distraction – manual (hands off of the wheel), visual (eyes off of the road), or mental (mind off of driving). Because texting requires visual, manual, and mental attention from the driver – it is by far the most risky distraction.

A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research project showed that dangerous mental distractions exist even when drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. The research found that as mental workload and distractions increase, drivers scan the road less, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, and drivers miss visual cues, resulting in not seeing items right in front of them – including stop signs and even pedestrians.

As drivers, it’s important for us all to develop good habits now, because the future only gets more distracting. One recent study has predicted five-fold increase in “infotainment” systems in new vehicles by 2018. By comparison, when the Ford Mustang debuted 50 years ago, a radio was not part of the base model – you had to pay to have a radio as an “upgrade”!

To further demonstrate the dangers of Distracted Driving, the Nebraska Safety Center has an outreach program which includes the use and demonstration of our state-of-the-art Mobile Driving Simulator. Please contact our office if you would like to schedule a presentation.