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Distracted Driving

Study suggests it’s an increasing issue, but is it worth the risk?

by Autobytel Staff
June 11, 2010

This won’t be the last time you’ve heard the phrase “distracted driving," as today’s drivers have reached a conundrum. Technology is advancing at an incredible rate and now people have grown accustomed to constant communication through mobile devices. Driving distractions are numerous, and as the popularity of mobile devices increases, the line between safe driving and staying plugged-in is getting blurred. Our Wired-in-the-Car snapshot survey, conducted in May of 2010, shows that drivers want to remain connected, even to the point of sacrificing safety through distracted driving. If the driver is a tech-hungry “echo boomer” (under 35 years old for our purposes), preferences that favor distracted driving hold strong, regardless of potential safety risks. Our driving while distracted statistics show that 39% of echo boomers report either being in an accident or coming seriously close to being in an accident involving distracted driving; however only 67% think driving while distracted should be outlawed in every state. This is compared to the overwhelming 94% of respondents over 36 years old that think driving while distracted should be banned from sea to shining sea, and who incidentally report slightly fewer incidents involving distracted driving. It’s clear that an age differential is starting to appear with regards to technology and driving while distracted. Mobile devices are one of the top distractions while driving. Having been integrated into echo boomers' daily lives, mobile devices are accepted as one of the necessary driving distractions. Vehicle manufacturers are developing technology to minimize these driving distractions, but it’s not developing fast enough. And surprisingly, consumer desires are elsewhere anyhow. When asked which device or accessory you would like to have in your car today but don’t, and 30% responded with GPS navigation. Only 14% favored voice-controlled mobile interfaces that minimize driving while distracted. The perceived danger of distracted driving is even less when considering that 24% of respondents claimed they could live without technology in their cars altogether. That said, even if technology that lessens the risk of distracted driving were developed, consumers may very well not opt for it or even use it for that matter. There are many factors that could contribute to these driving while distracted statistics. Poor education or the absence of a useful, safe, and viable solution could contribute to distracted driving. More likely, it is a lack of enforcement of distracted driving laws could be to blame. 54% of respondents report using their cell phone or texting while driving when it is banned in their state, and a staggering 88% reported never being ticketed for driving while distracted. It is possible that given stricter enforcement of distracted driving laws, the number of incidents involving distracted drivers could decrease. There are currently seven states that ban handheld cell phone use, and 20 states that ban distracted driving. Considering our driving while distracted statistics, it’s evident that these laws are not being fully enforced. This may be the reason why, according to a study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute (an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), the number of collision claims have not changed when compared to before those distracted driving laws were enacted. It goes without saying that the dangers of driving while distracted are numerous. Anything that takes your eyes off the road or interferes with complete focus while driving is distracted driving. Top distractions while driving range from eating a sandwich to texting your friends and looking up the traffic report on your smart phone -- driving while distracted comes in all shapes and sizes. It is best that you do all you can to minimize distracted driving, because the consequences can be dire. In a 2008 study on distracted driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that nearly 6,000 people died in car crashes where the driver was driving while distracted, and more than half a million people were injured. Two years later, 36% of our respondents report either being in an accident or coming seriously close to being in an accident involving distracted driving. Regardless of measures taken, driving while distracted is still a major concern. There are little things that you can do to lessen your chance of being involved in distracted driving incidences.

      – If you have the impulse to text, make a call, or surf the Internet while driving, avoid distracted driving by asking yourself, "Is it really important enough to risk my life?"

      – Minimize driving distractions by turning off your mobile devices, or putting them on silent, so as not to be temped by a new text message or email from your friends or work.

      – Lock your cell phone in the glovebox and use a wireless hands-free device to make any calls. Let’s face it, text messages can wait.

      – Make your cell phone/PDA inaccessible by putting it in the back seat or under the passenger seat where you cannot reach it. If you absolutely must use your mobile device, pull safely to the side of the road, or hand it to a passenger to assist you.

    – If you encounter someone who is driving while distracted, slow down and leave plenty of space between your car and theirs. If you’re riding with someone who is driving while distracted, tell them politely to stop and assist them so they can keep their eyes on the road.

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