Study: Daydreaming Drivers Cause Most Distracted Driving Deaths

Data from police crash reports show that driving fatalities resulting from being “generally distracted” or “lost in thought” greatly outnumber those that are linked to use of mobile devices and other distractions, according to an analysis of the data by Erie Insurance.

In its analysis, the insurance company culled data between 2010 and 2011 that were based on the nationwide Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration feeds with myriad data on traffic deaths, including what police report when dealing with roadway fatalities.

According to the insurance carrier, 1 in 10 of the more than 65,000 people killed in car crashes over the past two years were killed in an accident in which at least one of the drivers was distracted in some way. The study, published Wednesday, was released to mark the beginning of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The results were as follows:
–62 percent involved a driver who was generally distracted or “lost in thought.”
–12 percent involved a driver who was using a cell phone.
–7 percent involved a driver who was “rubbernecking,” or being distracted by outside persons, objects or events.
–5 percent involved a distraction from other occupants.
–2 percent involved using or reaching for devices like headphones.
–2 percent involved eating or drinking.
–2 percent involved adjusting audio or climate controls.
–1 percent involved using in-car controls like rear-view mirrors, seats or GPS systems.
–1 percent involved a distraction from a moving object in the vehicle like a pet.
–1 percent involved a distraction from smoke-related activities like lighting or putting ashes out.

Doug Smith, a senior vice president with the insurance company, called the results “disturbing.”

In fact, the results may actually be less than what is occurring on the streets, the insurance provider said, with some motorists being “reluctant to admit they were distracted when being interviewed by police after a fatal car crash.”

A slew of studies on distracted driving, many funded by insurers, typically survey motorists themselves about their habits behind the wheel. According to Erie, its latest study is “meaningful” because it relies on “actual police reports” instead of drivers self-reporting their habits.

But even some of those studies find that, when speaking about themselves, drivers admit that they say distracted driving is dangerous yet engage in the practice anyway.

Tips for the Road

Erie offered the following tips for oft-distracted motorists hoping to keep themselves safe while driving.
–Let incoming cell phone calls go to voicemail.
–If someone calls you while they’re driving, ask them to call you back later and hang up.
–If you must talk or text, pull over.
–Lead by example; if you want your children to drive safely, show them how it’s done.

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) offers further tips to plan ahead and not get distracted in the car:
–Turn off your phone and/or put it out of reach while driving.
–Adjust controls and set your song playlist before you leave.
–Stay alert and keep your mind on the task of driving … if you find yourself daydreaming clear your head and focus on the road.

Month of Awareness Spurs Media, Enforcement Campaigns

The nationwide month of awareness has spurred campaigns in several states across the U.S.

This year marks the first time Hawaii has participated in the NHTSA’s National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Authorities issued nearly 21,000 citations for distracted driving throughout the state in 2012, according to transportation officials. A state Department of Health report on traffic crashes between 2007 and 2010 found that 8 percent of traffic fatalities in that period were the result of an “inattentive/distracted driver.”

This month, the state kicked off a media campaign with the slogan: “End distracted driving, before it ends you.”

Wisconsin’s “Zero in Wisconsin” is another multi-medium media campaign that is spread across television, radio and online advertisements. It aims to “motivate drivers to never text while driving,” according to Wisconsin DOT. The campaign features Austin Wierschke, a senior attending high school in Rhinelander, Wis., who twice won the LG U.S. National Texting Championships, as a skilled texter who still never texts behind the wheel.

A state law barring drivers with learning permits or probationary licenses from using handheld devices and phones while driving became effective last November.

Stronger enforcement tactics are also evident in California, where authorities are ramping up specialized patrols throughout the state.

One such operation included a local police sting in Lodi, Calif., where police said they issued 30 tickets to distracted drivers while spending five hours patrolling a single road.

California declared this week Teen Safe Driving Week, with outreach and education events hosted by Impact Teen Drivers, a coalition of police, educators and insurers. Kicking off the week was an event at John Burroughs High School in Los Angeles, where participants of the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy tackled a real-world driving course while “experience the impairment caused by everyday distractions.”

“The trail of knocked over cones the teens leave behind on the course gives a pretty clear visual of what might happen if they drive distracted out on the roadway,” Carolyn Duchene, the academy’s director, said in a statement.

State officials report that violations for using a handheld device and texting results in almost 450,000 convictions last year, with more than 57,000 of those during April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month in 2012.

According to the state OTS, a first-time violator faces a fine of $159 while repeat violators face a fine of $279.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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