Overview Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on mobile devices, eating, conversing with passengers and other distractions, are a major safety threat. The use of mobile phones and other electronic devices while driving has emerged as one of the leading causes of distracted driving related crashes. However, research shows that using a cellphone when driving is just one of many types of distracted driving that may lead to crashes and near crashes. Scope of the problem During the last five years ending in 2017, for which data is available from the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were about 3,030 distracted driving crashes a year, accounting for about nine percent of all fatal crashes. These crashes killed about 3,285 people each year over the same five years. Economic losses from distracted driving could total $46 billion a year. NHTSA released a study in May two thousand and fourteen which focused on behavioral factors that contributed to 32,999 highway fatalities and 3.9 million injuries in the U.S. in 2010. The study, The Economic and Society Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010, found that those crashes cost $277 billion in economic losses and $594 billion in societal harm, for a total of $871 billion that year. A breakdown of the figures for economic losses show crashes involving distracted driving accounted for 17 percent ($46 billion). Cellphone use is one of the distractions cited by NHTSA as a factor in fatal crashes. Over the last five years of reporting, an average of about four hundred and twenty crashes a year involved the use of cellphones, accounting for fourteen percent of all distraction-affected crashes. Cellphone-distracted crashes accounted for only one percent of all fatal crashes. About 450 people a year died in cellphone-distracted fatal crashes. Drowsiness as a distraction caused more than 79,000 motor vehicle crashes each year on average over the last five years of reporting, resulting in eight hundred and twenty-four deaths, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report . A two thousand and ten AAA Traffic Safety Foundation survey found that one in four drivers have struggled to stay awake while driving. An estimated seventeen percent of fatal crashes, thirteen percent of crashes resulting in hospitalization and seven percent of all crashes requiring a tow, involve a drowsy driver, according to the AAA. Driver fatigue is a significant concern regarding operators of large trucks. In 2010 fatigue was a factor in 34 percent of fatal collisions involving drivers of large trucks, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. State and Federal Initiatives In 2001 New York passed the first law banning hand-held cellphone use while driving. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as of May 2020, talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in twenty-five states and the District of Columbia (Laws in Idaho, Indiana and South Dakota become effective July 1, 2020; Virginia ’s law becomes effective on January 1, 2021; Arizona will issue warnings until two thousand and twenty-one when it will issue tickets). Almost all of the laws have primary enforcement provisions, meaning a motorist may be ticketed for using a hand-held cellphone while driving without any other traffic offense taking place. In two thousand and eleven the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that all states prohibit drivers from using cellphones, the first federal agency to call for a complete ban on telephone conversations from behind the wheel. Although the NTSB has no enforcement authority, as the federal government ’s leading advocate for safety its recommendations are influential in Congress and the White House. roughly every state and the District of Columbia has banned the practice of texting with a cellphone while driving. Most of these laws have primary enforcement provisions. Key StudiesThe following is a summary of some key research on the issue of distracted driving. Distracted Driving: According to data analyzed by Erie Insurance from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System at the U.S. Department of Transportation and released in April 2018, “generally distracted ” or “ lost in thought” was the number-one distraction involved in fatal crashes. Cell phone use was the cause of distraction for fourteen percent of drivers, and people outside the vehicle, objects or events (rubbernecking) was a distraction for six percent of drivers. Distractions from other vehicle occupants accounted for five percent of driver distractions and reaching for other devices such as navigation devices and headphones rounded out the top five distractions with two percent. Erie Insurance analysts studied more than 172,000 people killed in car crashes over the past five years and found that one in ten were in crashes where at least one of the drivers was distracted. Analysts consulted with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for the study. According to data analyzed by Erie Insurance from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System at the U.S. Department of Transportation and released in April 2018, “generally distracted ” or “ lost in thought” was the number-one distraction involved in fatal crashes. Cell phone use was the cause of distraction for fourteen percent of drivers, and people outside the vehicle, objects or events (rubbernecking) was a distraction for six percent of drivers. Distractions from other vehicle occupants accounted for five percent of driver distractions and reaching for other devices such as navigation devices and headphones rounded out the top five distractions with two percent. Erie Insurance analysts studied more than 172,000 people killed in car crashes over the past five years and found that one in ten were in crashes where at least one of the drivers was distracted. Analysts consulted with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for the study. The AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index found that most drivers (87.5 percent) believe that distracted driving has outpaced all other traffic-related issues as a growing safety concern. It was followed by traffic congestion at 74.5 percent and aggressive drivers at 68.1 percent. Risky/aggressive driving, drowsy driving, and impaired driving are also a growing concern. More than half of drivers (54.9 percent) believe that drugs pose a significantly bigger problem today than in the past three years; while about 43.4 percent believe that drunk driving is either a much bigger problem today or a somewhat bigger problem today than three years ago, according to the AAA ’s report. Most respondents supported required alcohol-ignition interlocks for drivers convicted of a DWI . The two thousand and nineteen Travelers Risk Index, Distracted Driving poll found that seventy-seven percent of drivers make or take calls when driving, and forty-four percent text or email while driving. As a result, thirty-one percent of respondents reported that they nearly missed getting into a collision, and nine percent have actualy gotten into a collision . Twenty-three percent of drivers use social media and twenty-two percent record videos or take photos. Other activities were even more prevalent—eight out of ten drivers say they eat or drink while driving and 30 percent admit to grooming while driving. Cellphone use : Virtually all drivers (96.8 percent) view texting or emailing while driving as a serious threat, according to the AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index However, in the past 30 days, 44.9 percent of drivers had read a text message or email while driving. Virtually all drivers (96.8 percent) view texting or emailing while driving as a serious threat, according to the AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index However, in the past thirty days, 44.9 percent of drivers had read a text message or email while driving. Respondents to the two thousand and eighteen Travelers Risk Index, Distracted Driving provided some insight as to why motorists use cellphones while driving in spite of being aware of the danger. Among people who said they respond to family- or friend-related calls, emails or texts while driving, sixty-one percent said they respond to these because there might be an emergency. Twenty-three percent said they are afraid of missing out on something. Also of note, although eighty-five percent of respondents said that driving while using personal technology is extremely risky, twenty-five percent of those who engage in distracted driving believed they could do so safely. Only 12 percent of respondents said they use auto reply and do not disturb functions on their phones in order to prevent distracted driving. A study sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety published a report in January two thousand and eighteen that found that a driver ’s visual or manual use of a cell phone while driving resulted in about double the incidence of crashes compared with driving without any observable distraction-type behaviors. The study, conducted by researchers at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, included observations of 3,593 drivers whose driving was monitored using in-vehicle video and other data collection equipment for a period of several months between October two thousand and ten and December 2013. Researchers noted that the cell phone use that was associated with the crashes was particularly texting but not limited to that task. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ’s Youth imperil Behavior Surveillance Survey, released in June 2016, shows that about 41.5 percent of high school students reported that they texted or emailed from behind the wheel at least once during the previous thirty days, about the same as the two thousand and thirteen survey. The survey is conducted every two years, and two thousand and thirteen was the first time the 13,000 participants were asked about texting and emailing while driving. The highest rate of texting or emailing while driving, 63.2 percent, was among teens in South Dakota. The lowest rate, 26.1 percent, was among teens in Maryland. Early Studies: Motorists who used cellphones while driving were four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves, according to a study of drivers in Perth, Australia, conducted by the IIHS. The results, published in July 2005, suggested that banning hand-held phone use will not necessarily improve safety if drivers simply switch to hand-free phones. The study found that injury crash risk didnt vary with type of phone. Motorists who used cellphones while driving were four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves, according to a study of drivers in Perth, Australia, conducted by the IIHS. The results, published in July 2005, suggested that banning hand-held phone use will not necessarily improve safety if drivers simply switch to hand-free phones. The study found that injury crash risk didnt vary with type of phone. Many studies have shown that using hand-held cellphones while driving can constitute a hazardous distraction. However, the theory that hands-free sets are safer has been challenged by the findings of several studies. A study from researchers at the University of Utah, published in the summer two thousand and six issue of Human Factors, the quarterly journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, concluded that talking on a cellphone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model. An earlier study by researchers at the university found that motorists who talked on hands-free cellphones were eighteen percent slower in braking and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked. A September two thousand and four study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that drivers using hand-free cellphones had to redial calls 40 percent of the time, compared with 18 percent for drivers using hand-held sets, suggesting that hands-free sets may provide drivers with a false sense of ease. A study released in April two thousand and six found that almost eighty percent of crashes and sixty-five percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the event. The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the NHTSA, broke new ground. (Earlier research found that driver inattention was responsible for twenty-five to thirty percent of crashes.) This study found that the most common distraction is the use of cellphones, followed by drowsiness. However, cellphone use was far less likely to be the cause of a crash or near-miss than other distractions, according to the study. For example, while reaching for a moving object such as a falling cup increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by nine times, talking or listening on a hand-held cellphone only increased the risk by 1.3 times. State Laws Banning Cellphone Use: Studies focusing on hand-held cellphone bans for drivers have yielded conflicting findings. Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) studies found that cellphone bans don’t reduce crashes, in contrast with a Consumer Reports National Research Center study that found that the laws were effective. One of the factors leading to the conflicting findings may be the way the studies were conducted. A HLDI analysis released in October two thousand and fourteen found that although state bans on hand-held phone use by drivers have lowered phone use behind the wheel, they have not produced a similar drop in crashes. The study involved looking at the findings of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration programs conducted from April two thousand and ten to April two thousand and eleven in Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York, aimed at reducing talking or texting on hand-held phones. Both states ban hand-held phone use and texting. At the end of the program, researchers found that the number of drivers observed using a hand-held cellphone fell fifty-seven percent in Hartford and thirty-two percent in Syracuse. HLDI analysts then compared collision claims in the counties where these cities are located—with the comparison counties where there were no NHTSA programs. The analysis found no corresponding reduction in crashes reported to insurers from the program counties relative to the comparison counties. HLDI provided possible reasons for the bans lack of effect on accidents, including the possibility that drivers may have been distracted by something else or that drivers may have switched to hands-free calling and still may have been distracted by their conversations. The analysis confirmed some of the results of an earlier HLDI study, released in September 2010, that found that texting bans may not reduce crash rates. The study looked at collision claims patterns in four states—California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington—before and after text bans went into effect. Collisions went up slightly in all the states, except Washington, where the change was statistically insignificant. The president of HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that the findings “ call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving crashes. They’re focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it. This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem. ” A survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center published in June two thousand and thirteen found that state laws that ban the use of a handheld cellphones or texting while driving in many states were effective. The December two thousand and twelve survey of 1,003 people found that seventy-one percent of respondents had stopped or cut back on texting, talking on a handheld phone or using a smartphone while driving in the previous year. Over fifty percent of them said they were influenced to change their behavior because of state laws, up from forty-four percent in a survey conducted in 2011. The survey also found that about twenty-five percent of drivers were unsure of their own state ’s laws. Employer and Manufacturer Liability Although only a handful of high-profile cases have gone to court, employers are still concerned that they might be held liable for accidents caused by their employees while driving and conducting work-related conversations on cellphones. Under the doctrine of vicarious liability, employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed in the course of employment. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to put in place a policy for the safe use of cellphones. In response, many companies have established cellphone usage policies which prohibit all use of handheld and hands-free cell phones while driving. In an article published in the June two thousand and three edition of the North Dakota Law Review, attorney Jordan Michael proposed a theory of cellphone manufacturer liability for auto accidents if they fail to warn users of the dangers of driving and talking on the phone at the same time. More recently, phone manufacturers and service providers have been facing the prospect of liability for not equipping mobile devices with features which could prevent the occurrence of distracted driving. Charts and Graphs Fatal Crashes Involving Distracted Drivers, two thousand and seventeen Crashes Drivers Fatalities Total fatal crashes 34,247 52,274 37,133 Distraction-affected fatal crashes Number of distraction-affected fatal crashes 2,935 2,994 3,166 Percent of total fatal crashes 9% six % nine % Cellphone in use in distraction-affected fatal crashes Number of cellphone distraction-affected fatal crashes four hundred and one four hundred and four four hundred and thirty-four Percent of fatal distraction-affected crashes 14% 13% 14% Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. View Archived Tables Driver Handheld Cellphone Use By Age, 2009- two thousand and eighteen (1) driv_hand_held_cell_use_by_age_09-18.gif (1) Percent of all drivers using handheld cellphones. Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. View Archived Graphs Additional resources © Insurance Information Institute, Inc. - all RIGHTS RESERVED.
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