Hype or cause for concern?
By David Strayer
These days driver distraction is in the news on a regular basis. But distracted driving has been around since automobiles have been on the road, so why the increase in media attention? Is it just hype or is it cause for concern?
The chart below, obtained from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), illustrates the cause for concern. In the chart, the number of fatal accidents for teens between the ages of 16-20 is plotted for the years from 1980 to 2008. The curve in red shows the trend for alcohol related fatalities. The curve in yellow illustrates the non-alcohol related fatalities.
The good news is that alcohol related fatal accidents have decreased significantly over the last 30 years. This is due in large part to the efforts of MADD to make drunk driving unacceptable. Although there are still far too many alcohol-related accidents, the trend suggests that the message is influencing driver behavior.
Don't Drink and Drive!
The bad news is that there has been a sharp rise in non alcohol related fatalities over the same period. Indeed, non alcohol related fatalities are now more frequent than alcohol related fatalities (and have increased by 34% for teens in the last 30 years). During this period there has also been an explosion in the number of electronic devices that can distract the driver. One of the most prominent sources of distraction is the cell phone used by drivers to talk or text.
How risky is driving while using a cell phone?
In January of 2009, the National Safety Council (NSC) estimated that 28% of all crashes were caused by hand-held and hands-free cell phones to talk or text. That translates into 1.6 million crashes in 2008!
The trend line for driver distraction is growing. The media attention reflects a genuine cause for concern.