Distracted Driving Increases & Legislation Supported

In advance of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, AAA released results of its latest survey and the National Safety Council announced that it supports a total ban on cell phone use while driving.

Distracted Driving Increasing

Distracted driving tops drivers’ list of growing dangers on the road, according to a new survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The annual Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that 88 percent of drivers believe distracted driving is on the rise, topping other risky behaviors like:

  • Aggressive driving: 68 percent
  • Drivers using drugs: 55 percent
  • Drunk driving: 43 percent

The proportion of drivers who report talking on a cell phone regularly or fairly often when behind the wheel jumped 46 percent since 2013. Nearly half (49 percent) of drivers report recently talking on a hand-held phone while driving and nearly 35 percent have sent a text or email. Despite their behavior, nearly 58 percent of drivers say talking on a cellphone behind the wheel is a very serious threat to their personal safety, while 78 percent believe that texting is a significant danger. A recent study from the AAA Foundation shows drivers talking on a cellphone are up to four times as likely to crash while those who text are up to eight times as likely to be involved in a crash.

“With more than 37,000 deaths on U.S. roads in 2016, we need to continue finding ways to limit driving distractions and improve traffic safety,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The Foundation’s work offers insight on drivers’ attitudes toward traffic safety and their behaviors, so we can better understand the issue and identify potential countermeasures to reduce crashes.”

Drivers in the AAA survey believe the problem of distracted driving has increased over the past three years, with nearly 50 percent reporting that they regularly see drivers emailing or texting while driving. Counterintuitively, federal estimates show the number of distracted driving crashes has actually dropped two percent. This may be due to the fact that it is difficult to detect distraction following a crash which makes distracted driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues. According to government estimates, distraction plays a factor in just 14 percent of all crashes. However, past AAA Foundation research looking into teen drivers (one of the most vulnerable driving populations), used in-vehicle dash-cam videos to determine that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of crashes, 44 percent more than federal estimates.

“As the number of distractions behind the wheel increases- from the latest phone apps to in-vehicle technology, it is important that we better educate drivers on the dangers of distraction,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “There is a disconnect between what drivers do and what they believe. While most recognize the dangers created by taking your eyes off the road, they engage in distracting behaviors anyway- creating a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ culture on the roadway.”

Any level of risk is too high when it comes to safe driving. Tasks that require a driver to take their eyes or attention off the road should be avoided while the vehicle is in motion- including the use of cellphones, infotainment systems, or navigation systems. AAA urges drivers to act responsibly when behind the wheel. In order to avoid distractions, drivers should:

  • Put aside electronic distractions and never use text messaging, email, video games or internet functions, including those built into the vehicle, while driving.
  • Pre-program your GPS and adjust seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before driving.
  • Properly secure children and pets and store loose possessions and other items that could roll around in the car.
  • Snack smart by avoiding messy foods that can be difficult to manage.

Additionally, most respondents supported requiring alcohol-ignition interlocks for drivers convicted of DWI, even for first time offenders (79.9%); requiring built-in interlocks for all new vehicles (73.0%) and having a per se law for marijuana (82.9%).

The new survey results are part of the AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data are from a sample of 2,613 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving in the past 30 days.

NSC Supports Legislation

The National Safety Council encourages all motorists to observe Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April and this year is urging legislators across the country to enact comprehensive laws to further prevent distracted driving injuries and deaths on our roadways.

The National Safety Council believes a full ban on electronic device use behind the wheel is the best way to keep drivers safe; however, data collected by the Council indicates that while many states have implemented partial distracted driving laws, still others are woefully behind in addressing the issue.

According to the National Safety Council State of Safety report, which grades states on actions and policies they have taken – or not taken – to reduce risk for all residents, significant work at the legislative level still needs to be done to address distracted driving in the U.S.

The report evaluated each state and Washington, D.C., on whether they have a texting ban for all drivers, as well as whether they have a total cellphone ban for teens and novice drivers.

Four states – Florida, Arizona, Montana and Missouri – lack a law in either area, and 16 states have addressed only one of the two areas. Since the report was completed last year, New Mexico, Texas and Iowa have joined 27 other states and D.C. in passing legislation in both areas.

“The National Safety Council is encouraged to see legislators addressing distracted driving at the state level, but more work needs to be done,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “No state currently has a law that completely bans all electronic-device use behind the wheel, and the Council believes a full ban – including a ban on hands-free electronic devices – is the most effective way to prevent distracted driving crashes.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges that distracted driving data is incomplete. States such as Connecticut, New York and Wisconsin are leading the way when it comes to including details about handheld cellphone use, texting and other distracted driving measures in crash reports, according to the “Undercounted is Underinvested” study by the National Safety Council.

“It is only by collecting and analyzing crash data that we can truly understand the impact of distracted driving our roadways,” Hersman said.

Joining the Road to Zero coalition provides another opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. The Council leads the 650-group coalition with USDOT, and all are committed to ending roadway fatalities by 2050.

The National Safety Council observes Distracted Driving Awareness Month each April to remember the thousands lost each year to preventable crashes. It will host a Thunderclap on social media at 8 a.m. CST Monday, April 2, and it will host a webinar – “Engaging Ways to Address Distracted Driving at Work” – at 11 a.m. CST Thursday, April 19.

Visit nsc.org/justdrive for more information and resources, including posters, fact sheets, infographics and social media posts.