Study Shows Distracted Driving More Common in U.S. than Europe

Phone-related distracted driving may be far more prevalent in the U.S. than in seven European countries, according to new research.

The research, the result of two surveys conducted in 2011 and published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), showed that American drivers are atop the rankings—and not in a good way. Drivers aged 18 to 64 years old in the U.S. led European motorists in both cell phone use and texting behind the wheel, although the U.S. tied Portugal for the latter.

Those surveyed in Europe were from:
–Portugal
–The Netherlands
–Belgium
–Spain
–France
–Germany
–the U.K.

According to the survey of American motorists between 18 and 64 years old, 69 percent of them reported talking on a cell phone behind the wheel at least once in the past month.

Thirty-one percent said they had sent a text or email while driving at least once in the past month, the survey found, slightly above the rates found in other research.

The country with the lowest rate of talking on a phone while driving was the UK, with 20.5 percent. Spain had the lowest proportion that reported texting from behind the wheel, at 15.1 percent.

Portugal had the highest rates in Europe for both talking on the phone and texting while driving, coming in at 59.4 percent and 31.3 percent, respectively.

A Stubborn Problem for the U.S.

The percentages of American drivers using cell phones match those found in other pieces of research in the U.S., including 2010 findings from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showing that almost 7 out of every 10 drivers over 16 years old reported using a cell phone while driving in the previous month.

The results of both the AAA study and the one published in the MMWR show the stubborn nature of distracted driving and shortfalls the U.S. has encountered so far in reducing it.

According to the MMWR, several American studies have indicated that a combination of laws against certain mobile devices and high-visibility enforcement by police “might be effective.”

“However, these laws have not yet been shown to result in decreased crash rates,” the report stated. “Strategies such as legislation combined with high-visibility enforcement and public education campaigns deserve further research to determine their effectiveness in reducing mobile device use while driving.”

The U.S. has no nationwide bans on texting or cell phone use while driving, but instead enforces different prohibitions state to state, in addition to local ordinances. Currently, 10 states bar talking on a hand-held device and 39 bar texting while driving.

There is a ban throughout the United Kingdom on using hand-held devices while driving. According to the survey published in the MMWR, only 21 percent of U.K. drivers reported using their cell phone while driving, the lowest of any nation participating in the polling.

A mobile device ban is also active in Germany, which fell behind only the U.K. in drivers reporting that they had never used their cell phone while behind the wheel.

Learned Lessons Can be Passed On

The report suggested that strategies applied successfully to other traffic-related public safety issues, like drunk driving and lack of seat belt use, could be replicated for distracted driving.

Also, further research could go toward “the effectiveness of emerging vehicle and mobile communication technologies,” according to the MMWR.

A recent article authored by experts on public health and injuries also noted the use of technology to cut down on device use in the car.

One of the authors, Jeffrey Coben, also said that the current setup of statewide prohibitions has fallen short of effective enforcement and, in turn, rates of distracted drivers in the U.S. remain high. Coben suggested that “engineering and technology” be utilized to shut off cell phones while the car is being driven. He said such an advancement in traffic safety would be on par with air bags and antilock brakes.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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