While there has been increased societal awareness regarding the dangers of distracted driving, it’s clear that the risks associated with driving distracted have not been fully realized by most motorists. Although a great deal of distracted drivers are younger, this issue isn’t isolated to younger drivers. Statistics show that a significant majority of drivers still believe driving under the influence to be a more dangerous behavior than distracted driving, despite evidence to the contrary.
While motorists are more aware of distracted driving, statistics show that it hasn’t stopped drivers from engaging in dangerous driving habits. In a recent survey administered by DMV.com on the frequency of distracted driving, more than 25% of the 1,400 respondents admitted to texting and driving at least once a month. Unfortunately, the ambivalent attitude towards this danger is apparent as approximately 421,000 people were injured in a crash involving a distracted driver in 2012 –a 9% increase in injuries compared to 2011 statistics (distraction.gov).
Despite efforts to reinforce the fact that driving distracted is more dangerous than driving drunk, perceptions have not been altered in most cases. Studies have shown that texting can reduce reaction times by up to 35%. Driving under the influence was only found to impair reaction times by 12%, however an overwhelming majority surveyed believed it to be more dangerous than distracted driving. In total, 95% of respondents believed that drunk driving was more dangerous even though there is concrete evidence showing that distracted driving impairs response time by almost 200% more than driving under the influence.
A significant reason for the increased danger of distracted driving is due to drivers taking their eyes off the road for approximately five seconds at a time when they engage in texting ( UTTI, 2009). To put this into context, a driver traveling 55 mph would have had their eyes off the road long enough to have traveled the entire length of a football field.
While the lack of awareness among drivers regarding the dangers of distracted driving is concerning, perhaps more alarming is the consistent trend of young drivers texting despite knowing the dangers associated with distracted driving. 25% of teens admitted to texting at least once every time they drive, but perhaps even more unsettling, one third of respondents 18-24 believed that they can drive safely while texting. This statistic underscores that this is not only a behavioural issue but an issue of misinformation with deadly consequences, as people in their 20s make up 27% of all distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes. Drivers under 20 have proven to be just as dangerous, with this age group having the largest proportion of drivers involved in fatal accidents who were distracted.
Victims of fatal crashes certainly aren’t alone in the impact distracted driving has on their lives. Car crashes involving distracted drivers resulted in $129.6 billion in comprehensive costs to the economy in the United States. While this may not seem all that important to a driver under 30, when looking deeper at where those losses are felt, it’s clear that a distracted driving accident can have long-term and far reaching consequences to a young driver.
According to a NHTSA study, 68% of all comprehensive costs resulted from distracted driving accidents were as a result of lost quality of life. While a 20 year old driver may not be able to appreciate the impact their actions could have on society, losing the opportunity to live as a healthy, normal adult may resonate with young drivers with a world of experience ahead of them.
Although these are troubling statistics, much of the continued engagement in these poor behaviors may be a result of a lack of public education. Based on responses from the DMV.com study, approximately 20% of motorists didn’t know the distracted driving laws in their states and 60% were unaware of the penalties for breaking the distracted driving laws in their communities. However, there is clear proof that significant investments in public education and enforcement could reverse the trend in regards to distracted driving.
Until recently, the most common cause of avoidable accidents was driving under the influence. However, through sustained education programs, increased penalties for DUIs, and lower blood alcohol limits, alcohol-related accidents have been reduced by as much as 52% between 1982 and 2010. By employing many of the same tactics and education efforts that have significantly reduced impaired driving for distracted driving, it may be possible to curb the accelerating trend of distracted driving in communities across the country.