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Life can change in an instant. While you’re driving down the highway, you call a friend to catch up, take a bite of your sandwich, send a quick text, or reach over to change the radio station – and that’s all it takes. Your life, and countless other lives, will never be the same again.

Distracted driving is a serious epidemic across the country. In the U.S. in 2013, more than 3,100 people died and another 424,000 were injured in car crashes that involved distracted drivers. And behind each of those numbers is a person – somebody’s partner, parent, child, sibling, or friend.

We wanted to see for ourselves what distracted driving really looks like – so on a recent afternoon, we recorded rush-hour traffic on I-95 in South Florida to tally the number of distracted drivers. During the 20 minutes we filmed, 2,151 cars drove past – and 185 cars, more than eight percent of those drivers, were talking on the phone, texting, eating, or doing something else that diverted their attention from the road. Here’s the full report on the issue that impacts all of us.

DISTRACTED DRIVING IN ACTION

According to the NHTSA, distraction is anything that diverts a driver’s attention from driving the vehicle and responding to events. Taking your eyes off the road (visual distraction), taking your mind off the road (cognitive distraction), or taking your hands off the wheel (manual distraction) – all of those fall under the umbrella of distracted driving. Drivers who are distracted have slower response and reaction times and a more difficult time staying in their lane.

Of the distracted drivers we saw in South Florida, the majority were talking on the phone. Texting was the next-most common issue, followed by eating. Though other distractions comprised the fewest incidences, the behavior is nonetheless risky: looking at occupants of other vehicles, reaching for something in the backseat, staring in the mirror, applying makeup, and so on. When it comes to distracted driving, as you’ll see below, some habits are more common than others.

WHAT WERE OUR DISTRACTED DRIVERS DOING?

During our study, we filmed 2,151 total drivers – and 185 of them (8.6 percent) were distracted while they drove. Of the distracted drivers, 81 percent were talking on the phone. Just over 9 percent were texting, more than 6 percent were eating, and more than 3 percent were otherwise distracted.

Well beyond the stretch of highway we filmed, this epidemic has sobering results. In 2013, distracted driving was reported as a factor in 10 percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of crashes with injuries, and 16 percent of all crashes. According to a CDC study, nearly 7 in 10 U.S. drivers (aged 18 to 64) admitted they had talked on their cell phone while driving in the past 30 days. Additionally, more than 3 in 10 said they had read or sent text or email messages while driving in the past 30 days.

Texting is by far the most severe distraction for drivers because it requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention and draws a driver’s attention from the road for five seconds at a time on average. However, talking on the phone is still a dangerous distraction. National Safety Council (NSC) data reveal that drivers talking on cell phones are involved in even more crashes than texters because they talk more often and for longer stretches of time than they text.

Remember that our video was filmed in Florida – a state where people are allowed to talk on cell phones while they drive. Would the results have differed in another state?

DISTRACTED DRIVING LAWS IN EVERY STATE

In the U.S., distracted driving laws vary by state. Currently nine states do not have a total ban on the use of handheld devices while driving: Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Arizona, Missouri, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Florida – where our study took place. Conversely, 13 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted a total ban: four states in the West and six in the Northeast, along with Hawaii, Illinois, and West Virginia.

Currently 46 states (and Washington, D.C.) have banned text messaging for drivers. Of the states that have banned it, all but five have primary enforcement (meaning a driver can be ticketed solely for texting rather than being ticketed after committing another violation).

Where is it legal to text and drive? Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and Texas. These cases come with caveats: In Texas, texting and driving is only illegal for bus drivers, novice drivers, and drivers in school zones; and in Missouri, it’s only illegal for novice drivers (21 and younger).

Because young drivers are the most at risk due to distracted driving, the majority of states have enacted bans on handheld devices for novice drivers or drivers with learner’s permits. However, according to the CDC, almost half of U.S. high school students age 16 or older use devices to text or email while driving. In 2013, of all drivers aged 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes, 10 percent were reported as distracted at the time of the accident. No other age group had such a high proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes. And a new study by AAA finds that distraction is a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate to severe teen crashes.

Are the laws in the U.S. stringent enough? Not everyone thinks so. The National Safety Council asserts that hands-free devices are every bit as dangerous as handheld devices due to the fact that they take drivers’ minds off the road. Its data reveal that driving while talking on the phone (whether handheld or hands-free) causes a fourfold increase in the risk of crashes that cause injury and property damage – and as you’ll see below, the effects can be devastating.

THE FALLOUT FROM DISTRACTED DRIVING

When it comes to the total number of crashes caused by distracted driving over one year, the statistics are staggering. In 2013, there were 616,000 distraction-affected crashes that caused property damage only; 284,000 accidents that caused injuries; and 2,910 crashes with fatalities.

How do these numbers stack up in terms of total accidents? Distracted driving crashes that cause injury comprise nearly 18 percent of the total crashes where an injury occurred, while distraction-involved crashes that cause property damage make up 15 percent of property-damaging crashes, and distraction is implicated in nearly 10 percent of fatal crashes.

DRIVING WITHOUT DISTRACTION

Perhaps you’ve found yourself distracted while driving, or maybe your partner, teenage child, or friend is a distracted driver. Our greatest hope is that our study serves to fuel serious discussion about the perils of distracted driving.

The important phone call, the urgent text, the on-the-go-meal because you skipped lunch – it’s still not worth it. It’s not worth risking a life. It’s absolutely vital to pay attention while you drive – to keep your eyes and mind on the road and your hands on the wheel. Plan ahead by eating before you go, put your cell phone out of reach (such as in the back seat or glove compartment) before you drive, and vow to pull over if you do need to use your phone, GPS, or other device.

Would you like to learn more about how to protect yourself and your loved ones while you’re on the road? Visit SR22 to find out if you can benefit from an SR-22 policy, get a free quote, and learn more about safe driving.

Methodology

We filmed cars from an overpass above I-95 in South Florida during rush hour for 20 minutes. Simultaneously, we used a still camera on a time-lapse remote to capture vehicles every second for 20 minutes. We then analyzed the photos to determine the total number of vehicles that passed by, as well as the number of distracted drivers. We logged the stills based on the category of distraction. We then used the stills as a guide to editing the video, adding a video overlay to the cars containing distracted drivers. The footage was originally 20 minutes in duration but was sped up to less than two minutes. We qualified the category “Other Distractions” as any other type of distracted behavior by a driver, including looking into other cars, putting on makeup, staring at their face in the mirror, reaching into the back seat, etc. For the number of crashes related to distracted drivers, we used the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data. For state laws regarding cell phone use, we referenced Distraction.gov, the official government website for distracted driving.

Sources

http://www.distraction.gov/downloads/pdfs/Distracted_Driving_2013_Research_note.pdf
http://www.distraction.gov/downloads/pdfs/812012.pdf
http://www.distraction.gov/downloads/pdfs/traffic-safety-facts-04-2013.pdf
http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811650.pdf
http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811379.pdf
http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811216.pdf
http://www.distraction.gov/stats-research-laws/state-laws.html
http://www.nhtsa.gov/Research/Crash+Avoidance/Distraction https://www.fnal.gov/pub/traffic_safety/files/NSC%20White%20Paper%20-%20Distracted%20Driving%203-10.pdf
http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/
http://www.distraction.gov/stats-research-laws/facts-and-statistics.html
http://www.nsc.org/DistractedDrivingDocuments/Cognitive-Distraction-White-Paper.pdf
http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/ http://newsroom.aaa.com/2015/03/distraction-teen-crashes-even-worse-thought/

Fair Use Statement

We grant permission to use the images found on this page freely. When doing so, we ask that you kindly attribute the creators by linking to this page so your readers can learn more about the project and its methodology.