Changing the radio station. Talking to passengers. Adjusting the air conditioning. Eating and drinking. All of these are simple tasks that we all do on a daily basis as we drive our cars. While they may seem trivial, in reality they all can lead to distracted driving – which killed 3,179 people and injured 431,000 people in 2014, according to recent statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The use of cell phones is another key component to distracted driving. In many states, including Maryland, it is a primary offense to utilize a handheld cell phone while driving. Interestingly, only 13% of all fatal and eight percent of injury-related distracted driving crashes are actually attributed to cell phone usage.
Distracted driving affects people of all ages, from new teen drivers, to experienced, busy professionals, to senior citizens. Data, however, suggests that there is a higher percentage of drivers age 30 and under that are impacted by distracted driving and the use of cell phones in crashes. Drivers in the 20-29 age group represented 29% of all distracted fatal crashes and 39% of fatal crashes that involved cell phones.
Distracted driving fatalities involve not only drivers but occupants, pedestrians, and bicyclists as well. A total of 2,659 people were killed within vehicles in 2014 and another 520 were non-occupants. There is not data available with respect to whether or not non-occupants were distracted as part of the crash.
Looking back at historical data since 2010, the number of people injured in distracted driving crashes has risen from a low of 387,000 in 2011 to the most recent total of 431,000 in 2014. Since the total number of people injured in crashes has also slightly risen, the percentage has remained relatively stable. Similarly, the use of cell phones in distracted driving crashes has also risen from a low of 21,000 in 2011 to a high of 33,000 in 2014. This represents an increase from five percent of all crashes to eight percent of all crashes.
NHTSA acknowledges that there are potential limitations in the reporting methodology as they rely exclusively on police crash reports which can differ significantly by jurisdiction and rely on the quality of the individual investigations. Some locations include distraction as a contributing factor within reports, but others do not.
So, what can you do to prevent distracted driving crashes? Pay attention! Giving your full attention while driving can – and will – save lives. Maybe even yours!