April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and with that comes the opportunity to educate communities around the state and country about the dangerous consequences associated with distracted driving.
Although distracted driving has received plenty of attention in recent years, that hasn’t prevented people from all age groups and driving experience levels from engaging in distraction, often with devastating consequences.
Let’s get started…
So, What is Distracted Driving?
“Any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”
So far, it seems that texting is the most dangerous distractive activity, though other similar activities like posting to Facebook or performing an Internet search can be equally disruptive. As the number of distracted driving accidents across the country has increased, many agencies have dedicated themselves to the study and publication of information associated with the perils of distracted driving.
Together with state legislation and federal advocacy efforts, these activities are meant to curb distracted driving and save lives.
The NHTSA has produced the two video’s below for this year’s distracted driving awareness campaign:
How Does Distracted Driving Affect Safety on the Roads?
A “distraction-affected accident” is any crash in which a driver is reported to have been distracted at the time of the accident. According to 2015 (most recent) data published by the NHTSA:
Individuals were killed in accidents tied to distracted drivers.
Injuries occurred in accidents involving distracted drivers
Drivers using cell phones to their ears while driving during daylight hours.
Additional 2015 distracted driving statistics from the NHTSA include:
- About nine percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported to be distracted at the time of the accidents.
- 551 nonoccupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, and others) were also killed in distraction-affected crashes.
- Handheld cell phone use was highest among those aged 16-24 and lowest among drivers 70 and older.
Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that 2016 was the deadliest year for vehicle accidents in a decade. With more than 40,000 fatalities, distracted driving continues to be a leading contributor to deadly accidents.
In June 2017, the AAA reported that new teen drivers ages 16-17 years old were three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash, noting that fatal teen crashes “are on the rise,” increasing more than 10 percent between 2015 and 2016. They added that distraction plays a role in 6 out of 10 teen crashes, four times as many as official estimates based on police reports.
In October 2017, the NHTSA released 2016 fatal traffic crash data showing only a slight 2.2 percent decrease in distracted driving fatalities, with 3,450 people dying in distracted-related accidents.
These numbers show that distracted driving is still a major problem throughout the country.
Distracted Driving in Pittsburgh, PA
While the fatalities from distracted driving demand action across the country, residents of the Greater Pittsburgh area have just as much reason to be concerned.
2012-2016 Distracted Driving Crashes in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh)
Scroll to zoom or use the +/- controls on the map.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), distracted driving crashes have steadily increased between 2014 and 2016, starting at 1,505 in 2014, and totaling 1,792 in 2016.
Injuries from these distracted driving crashes have also increased over the three-year period, from 920 in 2014 to 1096 in 2016. And as the NHTSA has found, those in the 20-29 age group were the most likely to be involved in distracted-driving crashes.
In 2016, those in the 20-29 age group were the most likely to be involved in distracted-driving crashes.
Pennsylvania's Texting-while-driving ban
Pennsylvania established a texting-while-driving-ban in 2012, which prohibits drivers from using cell phones and other devices to send texts, instant messages, emails, or browsing the Internet while driving. It’s considered a primary offense, and comes with a $50 fine.
In November 2016, Governor Tom Wolf also signed “Daniel’s Law,” which increased the penalties for an accident caused by texting while driving resulting in serious bodily injury or death. Now that this law is in effect, those who cause a fatality while texting and driving will receive a five-year jail sentence. Those who cause bodily injury while texting and driving will receive a two-year jail sentence.
In April 2017, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the number of citations given for being distracted by a cell phone while driving had increased every year since 2012. Allegheny County was the second-worst in the state, with 316 citations, behind only Montgomery County, which had 379.
The 3 Different Types of Distracted Driving
There are three primary types of distractions that can pull a driver’s attention away from the road and cause an accident. These are cognitive, visual, and manual distractions.
Cognitive distractions occur when a driver’s mind is not focused on driving. Being preoccupied with work-related issues or thinking about your weekend plans can be classified as cognitive distractions.
Typically, cognitive distractions can include visual and manual factors as well, which can make these the most dangerous.
Visual distractions involve pulling the driver’s focus away from the road ahead to look at something else such as children in the back seat, a GPS device, or searching for a specific building such as a restaurant.
Manual distractions require an individual to take his or her hands off the wheel for any purpose such as looking for something in the car, texting, making a phone call, and adjusting the radio. Other forms of distractions include:
- Talking to other passengers in the car
- Eating and/or drinking
- Adjusting the GPS/climate controls
The Distracted Driving Hangover Effect
In 2015, the AAA reported on a new study showing that drivers can experience what’s known as a “hangover effect” that lasts for as long as 27 seconds after using features on a cell phone.
They describe this as a “lasting mental distraction” that continues even after the driver has completed such tasks as text messaging, making or receiving phone calls, viewing or posting to social media, checking email, and taking photos.
At just 25 miles-per-hour, a driver can travel the length of nearly three football fields during that 27 seconds. During that time—while the driver is still thinking about the task completed, and is readjusting to the task of driving—he or she may miss stop signs, pedestrians, or other vehicles on the road.
Many drivers tend to think it’s safe to use a cell phone while stopped at a red light, at a stop sign, or even while their vehicle is parked, but this hangover effect suggests that when the light turns green and the driver puts the phone down, he or she is likely to still be distracted for another 30 seconds. The distraction will continue into active driving time.
“Drivers should use caution while using voice-activated systems,” said AAA’s president and CEO Marshall Doney, “even at seemingly safe moments when there is a lull in traffic or the car is stopped at an intersection. The reality is that mental distractions persist and can affect driver attention even after the light turns green.”
Currently, 46 states and Washington DC prohibit text messaging while driving, but only 14 states and Washington DC prohibit phone calls and driving. With thousands of fatalities occurring every year due to distracted driving, additional states need to enforce stricter laws to protect motorists and pedestrians from these types of avoidable accidents.
Age and Distracted Driving Behavior
In a recent study, the NHTSA explored behaviors and attitudes of more than 6,000 drivers across the country. In this study, 16-24 year old drivers were more likely to be involved in an accident while using a cell phone.
Nearly 6% of respondents indicated they had been involved in a crash in the previous year and another 7% admitted to being involved in a near accident.
Men were more likely to be involved in near-crash or crash incidences than women, and younger drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 had the highest incidence of a crash or near-crash experience.
A 2016 study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety involving more than 2,500 drivers identified that millennial drivers are the most likely to engage in distracted driving behavior.
Nearly all (88%) of drivers between the ages of 19 and 24 acknowledged participating in risky behavior like running red lights, speeding or texting and driving in the previous 30 days.
Compare this to almost 70% of drivers between the ages of 16 and 18 and just under 80% for drivers between the ages of 25 and 39.
Millennials were also twice as likely to send an email or a text message while driving at nearly twice the rate of any other driver. Nearly 12% of millennial drivers felt that it was acceptable to drive up to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in a school zone while compared with just over 5% for other drivers.
The Negative Impact of Distracted Driving on Your Brain
Many people feel that distracted driving behavior doesn’t necessarily increase their chances of being involved in an accident because of the myth of multitasking.
Unfortunately, the human brain is not equipped to perform two tasks at the same time, particularly where one of the tasks requires complete focus. Rather, the brain handles things in sequential order, managing one and then moving on to the next.
“Multitasking” can significantly impair a driver’s performance. Drivers may not be able to visually scan their environment for potential hazards when they’re engaged in two attention-demanding tasks, such as trying to drive a car while having a conversation with a passenger.
Research shows that even pedestrians who do not effectively monitor their surroundings while talking or texting on a cell phone are more likely to be involved in an accident.
Drivers making use of a cell phone may not be able to see other objects such as nearby vehicles, pedestrians, animals, or stop lights/signs.
The average time it takes for an individual to remove their focus from the road while texting is almost five seconds. While that might seem like a brief period of time, if you’re traveling at 55 miles an hour, that’s long enough to cover the entire length of a football field blindfolded.
If you think about this in perspective of the number of obstacles or individuals you could encounter during that time, distracted driving is always extremely dangerous.
We Know the Dangers, But Still We Drive Distracted
Most people are well aware by now of the dangers of distracted driving, yet studies find that despite this awareness, they still engage in this risky behavior.
Zendrive, for example, a driver analytics company, conducted a three-month analysis of three million anonymous drivers, and found that drivers used their phones during 88 out of 100 trips. On average, drivers spent an average of 3.5-minutes on their phones, a frightening finding since a two-second distraction is long enough to increase the likelihood of a crash by over 20 times.
The AAA regularly measures the attitudes and behaviors of drivers in the U.S., and discovered that while over 80 percent say texting/emailing while driving is a serious threat to safety, and 78.2 percent say that it’s completely unacceptable, 40.2 percent still report having read a text or email while driving in the past 30 days, and nearly a third (31.4 percent) typed one.
A nationally representative survey by Consumer Reports in 2017 also showed that 41 percent of drivers with smartphones said they’d used their hands to text while driving, and 8 percent admitted to watching a video on their phone while driving. A 2016 survey at the University of California showed that college students were likely to use their phones while driving, despite having a good understanding of the dangers.
Finally, a study conducted online by Harris Poll and commissioned by Property Casualty Insurers found that the overwhelming majority (92 percent) of more than 2,000 U.S. adults polled listed distracted driving as the number-one factor in an increase in car accidents across the country, yet the knowledge doesn’t stop the dangerous behavior.
Vehicle Infotainment Systems Present New Dangers
In today’s world, distraction has grown beyond cell phones. The rise of vehicle infotainment systems is providing a new way for drivers to take their attention away from the road, and the problem seems to only be getting worse.
Research from AAA shows that in-vehicle technology can create distractions just as dangerous as that created by cell phones. The latest data from 2017 shows that drivers using technologies like voice-based and touchscreen features “can take their eyes and mental focus off the road and hands off the wheel for potentially dangerous periods of time.”
Indeed, these new systems are attractive to drivers because of all the features available, but at the same time, they’ve made even previously simple tasks like changing the radio more complicated, as they require drivers to maneuver through complex menu screens rather than using simple knobs or buttons. Many of these newer systems also allow the driver to check social media, send text messages, or even surf the web.
“Drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use,” said AAA CEO Marshall Doney, “but many of the features added to infotainment systems today have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers.”
The AAA evaluated infotainment systems in 30 new 2017 vehicles, and found that programming navigation was the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds to complete. They also found that none of the systems could be qualified as having a “low demand” on attention, and that 23 of them generated high or very high levels of demand on drivers.
“Just because a technology is available in your vehicle, does not mean it is safe to use while driving,” the AAA stated.
Consumer Reports also conducted a study on vehicle infotainment systems in 2017, and then used a rating system to help consumers discover both the most distracting and least distracting systems. Among the most distracting were those in all Acura, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles, as well as in many Lexus and Volvo vehicles, and in the Tesla Model S and Model X. Among the least distracting were those in the Ford/Lincoln, GM (except Cadillac), Hyundai/Kia/Genesis, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen vehicles.
Do Car Safety Features Help?
New high-tech safety features implemented in many newer cars may help to offset the safety hazards of distracted drivers on the road. The four that seem most capable of helping a driver avoid a crash include:
Forward-Collision Warning (FCW)
This provides a variety of alerts to warn drivers of an impending collision. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that FCW is linked with a 27 percent reduction in rear-end crashes.
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)
Lane-Departure Warning (LDW)
This feature warns drivers when their vehicle starts crossing lane markings without the turn signal on. The IIHS has estimated that if all passenger cars had this system, it would prevent nearly 85,000 crashes and more than 55,000 injuries.
Lane-Keeping Assist (LKA)
If the vehicle starts drifting out of its lane, this feature provides steering and braking assistance to correct its path.
Distracted Driving Increases Insurance Rates
Distracted driving has caused so many accidents, injuries, and fatalities that new statistics show that car insurance rates are increasing across the country.
Drivers in 2017 pay an average of $926 a year for car insurance, which represents more than a 15% increase since 2011.
According to insurance experts, teenagers who engage in distracted driving are some of the biggest culprits of this bad habit and this has led to industry increases in insurance premiums for everyone.
Accident victims can suffer catastrophic injuries and may never be able to fully recover or go back to work after a serious accident caused by distracted driving. A victim of a distracted driving accident may have their life impacted by some of the following:
- Ongoing pain
- Reliance on pain medications
- Costly medical bills
- Difficulty enjoying daily activities
- Inability to return to work / lost wages
- Potentially higher car insurance rates
What to Do If You’re Involved in a Distracted Driving Accident
If you suspect that another driver’s distracted driving caused or contributed to a car accident in which you sustained significant injuries, you should consult with a knowledgeable car accident lawyer sooner rather than later.
Identifying a lawyer who has extensive experience litigating distracted driving accidents can give you peace of mind that someone is fighting hard on your behalf. You should not leave it up to your insurance company to compensate your fairly.
Don't Avoid Medical Treatment. Recovery is #1
While obtaining legal counsel is important after an auto accident, seeking medical treatment is still the most important thing to do. Do not hold off on obtaining treatment and recovering even if you lack the proper insurance. Timely and necessary medical treatment is important to your potential claim and may affect the value of your potential settlement.
If you are negotiating directly with the other party’s insurance company, be aware that they may try to pressure you into accepting a settlement early on. This is often not in your best interest and why it is recommended to retain a law firm who can help you.
Apps to Prevent Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is a critical problem in the U.S. and you as a driver and passenger can be a part of the solution. Commit to putting your phone away or turning it to airplane mode when you’re in the car so you’re not tempted to check it. It’s also important to model good behaviors for new drivers, other passengers, and children.
There are some great apps as well that can help keep your focus on the road and not on your phone, with most also helping parents to observe their teens’ driving behaviors.
Here are a few options that work on both iPhones and Android phones:
- Allows drivers to earn safe-driving points while driving (as long as you leave the phone alone, you earn points)
- Users can then use the points for discounts on food, fashion, entertainment, and car accessories
- Allows users to “play” with friends and see who racks up the most points
- Parents can observe teen driving behavior
- Alerts sent to parents if drive exceeds speed limit by more than 5 mph
- Stops texting, messaging, selfies, social media, and more
- Creates a “driving score” and ranks your driving based on dangerous behaviors
- Shows you the scores as your driving improves
- Works for both regular and commercial drivers
- Can be sent to “monitor” to determine if a teen is using their phone responsibly
Anti-Distracted Driving Scholarship
Given that teens are so frequently involved in distracted driving accidents, the Chaffin Luhana Foundation hopes to raise awareness about the dangers of this risky behavior and the serious and sometimes severe injuries that can result from distracted driving accidents.
The Foundation will be awarding a $2,000 scholarship to a student who helps us in this fight by submitting an inspiring personal essay.
Visit our scholarship page for eligibility and submission criteria and rules.