Distracted Driving: Dangerous Distractions
Although the struggle is far from over, we’ve made remarkable progress in reducing the tragedy of alcohol-related traffic deaths. Few people realize that such crash fatalities have fallen by over one-half (52%) between 1982 and 2010.1
During that period of time, the number of motor vehicles and drivers has increased dramatically. To compare “apples to apples,” transportation experts commonly look at accidents per 100 million miles driven. Using this more accurate measure, alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped by an amazing 72% between 1982 and 2006 (the latest year for which such statistics are available).2
Unfortunately, non-alcohol-related traffic accident fatalities increased between 1982 and 2010 by over three-fourths (78%). Clearly, if we want to reduce traffic deaths, we need to look at the serious problem of non-alcohol-related crashes as well.3
The United States Department of Transportation reports that we are experiencing what it calls an epidemic of distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) describes distracted driving as engaging in any activity that diverts a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. It reports that there are 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.4
Specific distractions include:
- Using a cell phone or smartphone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Reading, including maps
- Using a navigation system
- Watching a video
- Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
Distracted driving endangers drivers, passengers, and bystanders.
The Department of Transportation is especially concerned by what it calls the growing and dangerous practice of using cell phones behind the wheel. 75% of U.S. drivers ages 18 to 29 reported that they talked on their cell phone while driving at least once in the past 30 days, and nearly 40% reported that they talk on their cell phone “regularly” or “fairly often” while driving.5
In announcing its Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving, the Transportation Secretary observes that “Personal responsibility for putting down that cell phone is a good first step – but we need everyone to do their part, whether it’s helping pass strong laws, educating our youngest and most vulnerable drivers, or starting their own campaign to end distracted driving.”6
- 1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 2010 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview. Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note. 2011 (December). DOT HS 811 552. Page 2, Table 3; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Fatalities in 2010 Drop to Lowest Rate in Recorded History. NHTSA Press Release. April 1, 2011.
- 2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment: Alcohol-Related Fatalities. Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note. 2007. DOT HS 810 821. Page 1, Figure 1.
- 3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 2010 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview. Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note. 2011 (December). DOT HS 811 552. Page 2, Table 3; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Fatalities in 2010 Drop to Lowest Rate in Recorded History. NHTSA Press Release. April 1, 2011.
- 4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Statistics and Facts about Distracted Driving. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2011. diastraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/index.html
- 5. Porter Novelli, P. HealthStyles 2010 Survey. Unpublished raw data. Washington, DC: Adam Burns, 2010. Cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Distracted Driving. cdc.gov/MotorVehicleSafety/distracted_driving/index.html
- 6. U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Issues ‘Blueprint for Ending Distracted
Driving,’ Announces $2.4 Million for California, Delaware Pilot Projects
Comprehensive strategy to address “distraction epidemic” outlines steps to
pass more laws, address technology, and help stakeholders take action Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation press release, June 7, 2012. distraction.gov/content/press-release/2012/06-7.html
filed under: Driving