IIHS: Dangerous increase in drivers manipulating their cellphones

On Behalf of | Feb 11, 2019 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

If you’re like a lot of people in this day and age, you may not be using your cellphone much like a phone. Instead, you probably rely on text messages and spend more time with the apps. You may not even have your voice mail activated.

If people are talking less on their phones overall, that could mean fewer people talking on hand-held cellphones while they are driving. And, according to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), that is indeed happening.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t meant less distracted driving overall. Instead, people are bringing their new phone habits behind the wheel. In fact, people in the 2018 IIHS roadside survey were 57 percent more likely to be texting, using the internet, or otherwise manipulating their cellphones than they were in a similar 2014 study.

According to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, there is a 66-percent increase in the risk of fatal crashes when people manipulate their cellphones relative to driving with other distractions.

“The latest data suggest that drivers are using their phones in riskier ways,” said one co-author of the study. “The observed shift in phone use is concerning because studies consistently link manipulating a cellphone while driving to increased crash risk.”

Luckily, the actual numbers were relatively small. In 2014, 2.3 percent of drivers were observed fiddling with their cellphones in the IIHS survey. Last year, that had jumped to 3.4 percent.

Drivers fiddling with cellphones may be responsible for hundreds of deaths each year

In 2017, the most recent year where data is available, approximately 37,000 people died on America’s roadways. Assuming that 3.4 percent of all drivers nationwide are manipulating their cellphones, their distraction could be responsible for 800 of those fatal accidents.

Even talking on your phone changes the way you process information. People talking on cellphones while driving tend to focus their gaze at the center of the roadway, ignoring possible dangers in the periphery. And, their attention can simply be diverted from driving, which makes it harder to process what you do see.

Texting, using an app for directions, or browsing the internet, for example, is even more dangerous. They take your eyes off the road altogether.

23 percent of drivers observed were involved in distractions

The IIHS study involved stationing observers at 12 locations along roadways in Northern Virginia. They were stationed on straightaways, at intersections with signals, and at roundabouts in March 2018. They observed almost 12,000 drivers.

Of those, 23 percent were engaged in some form of recognized distraction, such as:

  • Talking on a handheld phone
  • Manipulating a cellphone (including looking at a mounted cellphone)
  • Holding a phone without obviously talking or fiddling with it
  • Wearing a headpiece or microphone
  • Wearing ear buds or headphones
  • Manipulating a car system such as the radio, climate control or a touchscreen display
  • Holding or manipulating an electronic device other than a phone
  • Singing or talking
  • Eating or drinking
  • Smoking or grooming
  • Other (reaching, adjusting a sun visor, holding an object, reading print material)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distraction causes between 8 and 10 percent of all traffic fatalities. We all need to do more to avoid it, but we especially need to stop fiddling around with our cellphones. It simply is not safe.

If you have been injured by a distracted driver, have your situation evaluated by an experienced personal injury attorney.


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