April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and driver distraction continues to be a major factor in crashes that result in fatalities and serious injuries. The National Road Safety Foundation says education and intervention can help limit distracted driving.
Some sources, including the National Distracted Driving Coalition, estimate that from 25 to 30 percent of fatal crashes involve distracted driving, which translates to an estimated 11,500 to13,800 deaths every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there are more than 325,000 serious injuries every year from distracted driving crashes.
“Talking and texting on cell phones, while the most talked-about cause of driver distraction, is not the only thing that can distract a driver,” said Michelle Anderson, Director of Operations at The National Road Safety Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes safe driving behavior. “Seemingly harmless things like tuning the radio, adjusting the GPS, eating or drinking can take a driver’s eyes and mind off the road, with potentially deadly results. Even talking to other passengers can be a dangerous distraction.” Part of the solution, she said, is simply becoming aware of what creates driver distraction and remembering that drivers should always keep their hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and their mind on the task of driving.
Passengers can play a significant role in reducing the number of distracted driving crashes by speaking up if they’re in a vehicle being driven by someone who is distracted or driving dangerously. “Passengers shouldn’t be afraid to intervene,” Anderson said. “We can’t let the fear of being labeled a “back-seat driver” stop us from taking steps to arrive safely. It’s important that passengers speak up, perhaps offering to make or take the call or send the text message for the driver, if he or she feels it just can’t wait.”
Despite all the talk about distraction, most drivers continue to ignore common sense. A recent survey by Travelers Insurance found that more than three-quarters of drivers said they use their cellphone while driving. More than half said they read texts or emails while driving and 27 percent said they check social media. Nineteen percent even admitted to shopping online while behind the wheel.
The risk of distraction is especially high for teen drivers. “It’s important that parents talk with their teen drivers about distraction,” Anderson said. She suggests they sign, with their teens, a mutual pledge not to text or talk on the phone while driving. Parents can also use technology to help stem the problem, with apps that prevent calls while a car is in motion and others that enable parents to track and monitor driver behavior.
Parents should also refrain from using their phones while driving, as well as obeying speed limits and traffic signals. “Young people pattern their behavior on what they see their parents and other adults do, so it’s up to us to set the right example,” said Anderson.
As part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, state and local police will partner with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the annual “U Drive. U Text. You Pay” campaign to aggressively enforce distracted driving laws.
The National Road Safety Foundation has brief videos about distracted driving that can be viewed or downloaded at no charge from https://www.nrsf.org/resources/distraction. The site also has a free downloadable self-assessment quiz titled “Am I Distracted?” that points out common behaviors that cause distraction while driving.
The National Road Safety Foundation, Inc. (NRSF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization that for more than 60 years has been dedicated to reducing crashes, deaths and injuries on our nation’s highways by promoting safe driving habits through greater public awareness.
NRSF produces documentaries, educational programs and public service campaigns for broadcast and for use in safety, educational and enforcement programs by police, teachers, traffic safety agencies, healthcare professionals, youth advocacy groups and other grass-roots related agencies, as well as federal, state and local government agencies. NRSF programs, which are free, deal with distracted driving, speed and aggression, impaired driving, drowsy driving, driver proficiency and pedestrian safety. The Foundation also works with youth advocacy groups and sponsors contests to engage teens in promoting safe driving to their peers and in their communities. For information or to download free programs, visit www.nrsf.org.
More Fear this Year
Consumers fear drivers are faster, more aggressive, and more reckless compared to 2022. They are right. New research from Nationwide shows dangerous driving behavior has not improved since last year. In fact, it has reached alarming highs.
The younger the driver, the scarier the driving behaviors
Nationwide’s Agency Forward research found that Gen Z has especially developed unsafe driving habits. 59% of Gen Z drivers admit being more impatient on the road than they were a year ago, and 47% report driving faster and taking phone calls on a handheld device. During the past year:
- 38% of Gen Z consumers admitted to looking at their phone more frequently while behind the wheel.
- 34% of Gen Z drivers video chatted while driving.
- 24% of Gen Z and 23% of Millennials used/checked social media while driving.
Americans overrate their driving behavior
Just like in 2022, drivers think highly of their driving skills. 86% of consumers rate their own driving behavior as excellent or very good, while only 23% would say the same of other drivers on the road.
Many drivers speed and multitask behind the wheel
Speeding remains an issue, with 54% of Americans admitting they’ve driven 10+ mph above the speed limit over the past 12 months. More than a third (35%) of vehicle passengers witnessed their driver texting while behind the wheel.
“The trends we’re seeing are not heading in the right direction,” said Beth Riczko, President, P&C Personal Lines at Nationwide. “This unnecessary multitasking behind the wheel is not worth the risk and drivers create danger for themselves, the passengers, others on the road, and even pedestrians.”
Bad driving more inconvenient and expensive than you might think
Dangerous drivers might not be prepared for the wait and costs associated with repairs after a car accident. Like most industries, auto repair shops are dealing with inflation, workforce shortages and supply chain issues – increasing the average cost and wait time for repairs on vehicles.
Car repair cost and wait times have increased:
- 47% of drivers believe that a car can be repaired within 2 weeks following a fender bender, on average.
- In reality, Nationwide claims data shows the average repair (from scheduling the repair to completion) can take six to eight weeks.
- Three out of four drivers (76%) estimate it cost less than $2,500 to repair a fender bender.
- In reality, Nationwide claims data reveals the average repair cost is nearly $4,000.
“In the last three years, Nationwide has seen a dramatic increase in repair times and repair costs,” said Riczko. “In 2022, even minor repairs took several weeks to complete, and hundreds of dollars more than they did in 2019. Bottom line: reckless driving will ultimately cost drivers extra time, money and likely, their safety.”
Dogs Distract Too
Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they aren’t always a safe driving companion. A recent poll commissioned by Selective Insurance, a leading business, home, and auto insurance carrier, found that dogs frequently cause distracted driving on US roadways.
The study, conducted online by The Harris Poll, found that 91% of licensed drivers who drove with their dogs over the last 12 months admitted to interacting with them while driving. Many of these interactions required the driver to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. Of this group, nearly half (48%) acknowledged that they are more distracted when their dog is in the vehicle than when it is not.
“We love our dogs. However, some of their behaviors in the car, such as sitting on drivers’ laps, jumping between seats, or sticking their heads out the window, divert drivers’ attention from operating a vehicle,” said Scott Smith, Vice President, Director of Safety Management, Selective Insurance. “To help keep our roads safe, drivers need to minimize distractions. That means our beloved pet passengers should be restrained in the car’s backseat, and if they need tending, drivers should first pull over to a safe place.”
Some of the more hazardous behaviors that drivers participated in while on the road with their dog in the past 12 months include giving them food/treats/water (36%), taking a photo/video of their dog while driving (27%), or holding them in place (23%). In addition, 40% of surveyed drivers confessed to reckless driving as a direct result of having their dog in the vehicle, such as:
- 16% experienced a lack of awareness of other vehicles around them.
- 13% hard braked.
- 11% swerved out of the traffic lane.
- 9% got into a car accident.
A significant 70% of licensed drivers who drove with their dogs in the past 12 months said their dogs were unrestrained in the vehicle. Yet, 82% of survey participants agree that having an unrestrained dog in a moving vehicle can distract the driver. Some states have animal restraint laws for vehicles to help keep drivers safe and focused. Awareness, however, is low. Only 24% of licensed drivers who drove with their dog in the past 12 months said they are very familiar with such laws in their state compared to 34% who said they didn’t know these laws existed.