The truth about distracted driving on our highways

Almost all of us are guilty now and then even if it’s as innocent as taking too long to find the right setting for the climate control. From using digital devices such as iPods, cell phones, netbooks, tablets to just looking for your lighter or another cigarette – anything that takes your eyes and mind off the road for more than two seconds is a distraction. Such displaced attention is part and parcel of from 15 to 25 percent of all crashes.

Consequently, The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has released the first comprehensive study of distracted driving research for state officials. The report included research from over 350 scientific papers dating from 2000 and 2011. The new report -- Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do was produced thanks to a grant from State Farm. The report not only defines distracted driving, but also how often it occurs, how it impacts driver performance and, lastly, what measures can be taken to reduce distracted driving.

"Despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot that we do not know," said GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha, who oversaw the report's development. "Much of the research is incomplete or contradictory. Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it."

What has been firmly established is simply that distraction affects performance and may occur as much as 50 percent of the time. It is known that drivers do adapt to ambient conditions and pay more attention in riskier situations. Texting is much more dangerous than cell phone use, but cell phones do increase the risk of accidents.

Recommendations contained in the report include implementing low-cost roadway countermeasures such as edge and centerline rumble strips, alerting motorists when they stray from their driving lane. Secondly crash reports should contain information regarding distraction to whatever extent possible, for the evaluation of existing laws and programs. We should further wait for definitive results on cell phone use before passing additional legislation and investigate which countermeasures are effective and which are not.

The study also suggested implementing a texting ban for all drivers and a complete cell phone ban for novice drivers, as well as enforcing all existing phone laws and enacting distracted driving education programs. Further assistance should be provided employers to develop and implement distracted driving policies and programs.

"While distracted driving is an emotional issue that raises the ire of many on the road, states must take a research-based approach to addressing the problem,” Harsha stated emphatically. “Until more research is conducted, states need to proceed thoughtfully, methodically and objectively."

She also noted high visibility texting and hand-held cell phone enforcement projects in New York and Connecticut, modeled after the seat belt program, are proving to be effective in changing motorist behavior. "Our report includes the preliminary results on these cell phone crackdowns, which have prompted dramatic declines in hand-held cell phone use and texting behind the wheel. The final results are expected shortly and should be considered as states move forward with education and enforcement initiatives."Click It or Ticket

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