Pay Attention! Distracted Driving Can Be Deadly

By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA

Americans are driven to distraction.

They text, talk on their cellphones, eat, drink, read, program their GPS, adjust their radio, change CDs, groom themselves and talk to passengers while they drive.  In many cases, they pay more attention to their cellphones than they do to the highway.

The results can be deadly.  Nearly 6,000 people are killed each year due to multitasking behind the wheel and hundreds of thousands are injured.  Distracted driving accounted for 16% of fatal crashes and 20% of driving injuries in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The National Safety Council’s Transportation Safety Group found that distracted driving accounts for nearly 80% of car crashes, making it the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents.

Driving while distracted is a lot like driving while drunk.  Arbella Insurance Company says it’s the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08; just below the legal limit of 0.10.

At best, distracted driving is an annoyance.  Who hasn’t driven behind a self-absorbed cellphone user who slows to a crawl in the passing lane, clogging rush hour traffic?  Distracted drivers swerve into the wrong lane, rarely use blinkers and roll through stop signs.

Of course, given that distracted driving results in so many injuries and fatalities, it also significantly increases auto insurance premiums.

Texting the Greatest Risk

Distracted driving activities can be visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), or cognitive (taking your mind off what you are doing).

Texting may be the biggest problem, as it combines all three forms of distraction.  It’s been getting worse, as the amount of texting has increased.  In June 2009, nearly 100 billion text messages were sent.  That may seem like a mindboggling amount of text, but by June 2011, the number of text messages increased 50% to 196 billion.

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 9% of drivers surveyed overall reported that they text or e-mail “regularly or fairly often” while driving, but that number increases to 25% for drivers who are 18 to 29 years old.  In addition, 52% of U.S. drivers in that age group reported texting or e-mailing while driving at least once in the last 30 days.

Even more troubling, the number of people who text while driving appears to be increasing.  A 2011 survey by HealthDay found that 18% of drivers text or e-mail regularly while driving; 13% said they have surfed the Internet while driving.

Federal government research found that texting increases the probability of a crash by a factor of 23 – that’s 2300%.  Sending or receiving a text takes the driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds; for someone driving at 55 miles an hour, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field while blind.

Young drivers, who are the newest and most inexperienced drivers, are most apt to be distracted while driving and are most apt to be in a serious accident as a result.

While 25% of drivers in the United States reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that they talk on their cell phones “regularly or fairly often” while driving, the number increases to nearly 40% for drivers 18 to 29 years old.  In addition, 75% of U.S. drivers in that age group reported that they talked on their cell phone while driving at least once in the past 30 days.

Teen drivers are also especially likely to be involved in a fatal crash when distraction is a factor.  The NHTSA reported that 16% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted.  Overall, the proportion of drivers known to have been distracted at the time of a fatal crash increased from 7% in 2005 to 11% in 2009.

When asked whether driving feels safer, less safe or about the same as it did five years ago, more than a third of drivers surveyed said they feel less safe today.  Distracted driving, cited by three out of 10 of those who feel less safe, was the single most common reason given for feeling less safe today.

What Can Be Done?

Given the magnitude of the problem, a growing number of states are taking action against distracted driving by banning certain behavior, such as cell phone use or texting.  In Massachusetts, texting while driving is banned, as is cell phone use for novice drivers and bus drivers.

In addition to creating legal disincentives, additional action is needed, as studies show that such laws are often ignored.  Adults, of course, should know better, but young drivers need to be educated about the risks of distracted driving.

To help educate young people about the risks, McGrath Insurance Group will be bringing the state-of-the-art Distractology 101™ Tour to McGrath Insurance Group, 258 Main St., Sturbridge, from Monday, July 16, 2012 through Friday, July 20, 2012.

Distractology 101 is an interactive program developed by the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation to teach new drivers the dangers of distracted driving.  It features a 36-foot-long, neon-yellow mobile classroom outfitted with high-tech driving simulators that give new drivers a real-life look at the potentially disastrous effects of distracted driving.  It’s an interactive experience designed to create a new generation of safe drivers.

During the driving simulator training, called “Distractology 101: A Crash Course on Distracted Driving,” teens and other new drivers will face a number of scenarios based on real-world examples that illustrate the dangers of distracted driving and teach participants how to anticipate hidden hazards, react to the road and avoid accidents.  Participants will also be asked to complete the online portion of the curriculum to reinforce what they learn in the classroom and to complete the training by taking a safe driving pledge.

To register for a free 45-minute training session or for more information, contact Elissa Boos of McGrath Insurance Group at 508-347-6850, x 105 or eboos@mcgrathinsurance.com.


Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass.  He can be reached at rmcgrath@mcgrathinsurance.com.

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.

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