Distracted driving is everywhere. It ranges from smart vehicles that do everything but drive themselves to the mobile device distractions that have plagued the country since cell phones became a must.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released statistics showing that — in spite of laws against hand held use and restrictions on other ways to talk on them — that cell phone use has increased.
IIHS spokesman David Kidd said this behavior could be responsible for up to 800 deaths a year on U.S. streets, roads and highways. “The latest data suggest that drivers are using their phones in riskier ways,” he said. “The observed shift in phone use is concerning because studies consistently link manipulating a cellphone while driving to increased crash risk.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) thinks the number of fatalities could be higher than the 800. It estimates that 3,166 fatalities in 2017 were because of distracted driving. While not all of that distracted driving was mobile device use, the evidence says more are than less.
By the way, the 3,166 deaths are 8.5% of all U.S. traffic fatalities.
So why are so many people talking on their phones while driving? Kelly Funkhouser of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center said it’s because people find driving boring and a necessity. They want something to relieve the monotony.
“Society increasingly expects people to multitask at all times of day, so there is going to be pressure to accomplish something if they’re getting pinged on their phone,” she said and then added that automakers are making it increasingly easy for people to use a phone in a vehicle. The use of touch screens and more are adding to the distractions.
Even worse, Funkhouser said many of those systems are poorly designed and that makes this even more dangerous. “The fact is that some people are going to use their cell phone while driving, and increasing eyes-off-road time makes it much more dangerous to do so,” she said.
Her publication is lobbying the auto industry and asking it to stop adding features that encourage people to take their eyes off the road. If they can’t do that, then make sure those features are disabled when the vehicle is moving.
When it comes to phones, Consumer Reports wants automakers to make pairing the phone with the automobile as easy as possible.
In some states there are laws on the books to make cell phone use in vehicles illegal haven’t worked. Two of them are the PIA Western Alliance states of California and Washington.
In California the Office of Traffic Safety does an annual survey of drivers. They park at various corners in different cities and do a count. This year they parked at 204 locations in 17 counties.
Rhonda Craft is the head of the office. She said this year 4.6% of the drivers observed were on their phones as they drove past. That’s up 3.6% from a year ago.
“Our goal is to end distracted driving, and there’s still work to be done,” she said. “This observational survey gives us an idea on where we stand getting drivers’ attention away from their phones and where we still have work to do.”
The good news is that the percentage of drivers on their phones is down from 2016 when the figure was 7.6% Craft said that means more drivers are aware of the dangers of distracted driving.
“Social norms are changing when it comes to distracted driving,” Craft added. “When a driver’s perception of risk changes for certain behaviors like using their phone and driving, they are less likely to do something that can get them in trouble or worse, in a crash.”
Here’s what else the California Office of Traffic Safety found:
• People alone in their cars are 8x more likely to use their phones than those driving with a passenger
• Drivers are more apt to use their phones on local roads than on highways
• Rather than being on the phone, drivers are more likely to be texting or doing other functions
• Less than 2% of drivers used their phones with children in the car
The Washington State Traffic Safety Commission did the same kind of test of Washington drivers. Statistics from that study showed that just 3.4% of drivers witnessed were holding their phone to their ear rather than using a hands free system.
That’s down from just under 6% in 2016 and 2017.
That’s good news says commission spokeswoman Staci Hoff. “Lots of drivers believe distracted driving is happening at a higher rate than it is. It’s about one in every 10 people,” she said.
When it comes to overall distracted driving, the commission said about 8.2% are distracted at some point while the vehicle is moving. That’s a one-point drop from 2016 and 2017. So while phones are not as much of a distraction, eating, tuning music on a radio or other devices, or attending to pets or children is up.
The PIA Western Alliance state of Arizona is looking at adding a ban on cellphone use while driving to its laws. It is one of just three states where texting and hand-held phone use is still legal.
A bill has been introduced by Republican state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee to ban cellphone use while driving. She hopes the state will finally act. For the last decade, each year the Legislature has said no to a ban.
McGee believes there is now support in both chambers to get the job done. “This is the DUI issue of our time. And we need to educate and reculture our driving public to follow the rules,” she said.
The only other states without a ban are the PIA Western Alliance state of Montana and Missouri.
Speaking of distracted driving. Several states have made the recreational use of marijuana legal. A number of others say the use of pot for medical reasons is okay. That has increased the number of people driving under the influence of marijuana.
Researchers at the University of Michigan Addiction Center talked to peole that take medical cannabis for chronic pain. Their research found in the last six months:
• 56% said they drove within two hours of using marijuana
• 51% said they drove while “a little high”
• 21% said they drove while “very high”
Cannabis is just one more addition to the growing list of driver distractions.
Source links: Consumer Reports, The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Chronicle, AZ Central, PropertyCasuaty360.com