Study: U.S. Drivers More Distracted Than Ever

In one of the biggest, most comprehensive studies on behind-the-wheel habits of U.S. drivers, a troubling – though perhaps unsurprising – trend has emerged. 

We have known for some time that distracted driving is a greater problem today than it has ever been. Motorists have easy access to smartphones and demands for their attention are constant. But the recent conclusions of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, have revealed is this:

Drivers in the U.S. are distracted more than 50 percent of the time their vehicle is moving. More than half the time we are driving, we are not actually driving – or at least we aren’t focused on doing so.

That is horrifying, and suggests that distraction plays a much larger role in Fort Lauderdale car accidents that has previously been suggested.

What’s more: The problem has gotten exponentially worse in recent years. Fifteen years ago, the U.S. had fewer per-mile traffic deaths than the majority of modern developed countries. Today? We rank 17th out of 29.

In terms of roadway fatalities, our per-100,000 people rate is now 11.4. Compare that to the U.K. with 3.7, Canada with 6.8, the Philippines at 9.1 and Brunei at 6.8.

The VTTI research was funded by the U.S. government in an effort to better understand ongoing traffic safety issues. In an order to make sure the findings were accurate, researchers convinced 3,500 drivers to allow installation of cameras, sensors and radars in their vehicle. These devices would track driver behavior, maneuvers and crash data for a full three years.

Although all this information would be anonymous, it should be noted that most people who know they are being watched still behave better than they might otherwise. That means the data, comprehensive though it is, still only provides us with a best-case scenario.

The findings were bleak. Almost 70 percent of the crashes observed by researchers were the result of some kind of “observable distraction.”

These results were especially pronounced among teens and other younger drivers.

The No. 1 source of distraction, of course, is the cell phone. In this naturalistic driving dataset, which involved some 35 million miles of information, researchers found that:

Drivers spent 0.14 percent of the time dialing a cell phone. This singular act increased the risk of a crash by 12 times, compared to what researchers characterized as a “model” driver, meaning someone who was alert and sober.

Texting, meanwhile, was observed about 2 percent of the time. It was associated with a 6-fold crash rate increase.

Talking on the phone, seen about 3.25 percent of the time, more than doubled the risk of a car accident.

Reaching for a cell phone, meanwhile, upped the crash risk by five times.

Of course, the cell phone wasn’t even the only distraction. Talking with other passengers was a big one. This is significant because while we know teen drivers don’t do well with other teen passengers, it’s been generally believed that an adult in the front passenger seat is actually a benefit to drivers. Not so, according to this study, which indicated it increased the crash rate by 50 percent.

Another risk – which perhaps should be classified as more of an impairment than a distraction – is emotional driving. That is, operating a vehicle while extremely sad, crying or angry. It was observed less than 1 percent of the time. However, it was associated with a 1,000-fold increase for risk of a crash.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Driver crash risk factors and prevalence evaluation using naturalistic data, Jan. 26,2 016, PNAS

More Blog Entries:

Fort Lauderdale Envisions Accident-Free Zone, Jan. 12, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Accident Attorney Blog