Motorists in the U.S. are increasingly more dangerous behind the wheel, and are engaged in some form of observable distraction at least half the time they are driving.cellphone2

This was the conclusion gleaned from the largest, federally-funded study in the U.S., the results of which were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) reported that in the early 2000s, drivers in the U.S. had a per-mile fatality rate that was better than the vast majority of developed countries.

Today? We are ranked No. 17 out of 29. In terms of roadway fatalities, our per-mile death rate, as compared to other countries is:

  • 11.4  in the U.S.
  • 3.7 in the United Kingdom
  • 6.8 in Canada
  • 9.1 in the Philippines
  • 6.8 in Brunei

The researchers opine that perhaps the biggest problem is the fact that U.S. drivers are consumed with their cell phones. They cannot get enough of them.

Study authors tracked the driving habits of 3,500 drivers over the course of three years. With permission from the participants, of course, researchers affixed cameras, sensors and radar inside the vehicles. They tracked the drivers’ behavior with every mile they drive. Participants were fully aware they were being watched, though the results were anonymous. In all, researchers were able to analyze data from some 35 million miles traveled.

What they discovered: Drivers in the U.S. are using their phone in some way for 50 percent of the drive.

Now, we all know the public warnings about how unsafe texting and driving is and most states have even passed laws in this regard. Still, the cell phones appear to be a central part of travel for most U.S. drivers.

Texting itself wasn’t actually all that common. Researchers saw drivers texting about 1.91 percent of the time. However, the drivers who did text increased their odds of a crash by 6-fold, as compared to those drivers who were 100 percent sober, alert and attentive.

Dialing a number was less common – observed just 0.14 percent of the time. And yet, researchers found that it was correlated with a 12-fold increase in car accidents.

Talking on the phone was more common, with researchers observing this behavior 3.24 percent of the time. However, just this act alone doubled the odds a driver would be in a crash.

Reaching for a phone – this seemingly innocuous act – increased the risk of a wreck by five times.

But phones weren’t the only culprit, and there were a few findings that surprised researchers.

For one, it’s been believed that while teen drivers were greatly distracted by teen passengers, adult passengers (for all drivers) were actually beneficial. The thinking was that adult drivers are paying attention to the road and may be like an extra set of eyes for the driver – even if the two were engaged in a conversation. However, researchers found that conversations with an adult passenger were associated with a 1.4-fold increase in car accidents.

Eating, drinking and applying makeup didn’t seem to make much difference in driver performance. However, driving while emotionally distraught had a huge impact. Although it was only observed to occur about 0.2 percent of the time, someone who was extremely emotional or agitated resulted in a 1,000-fold increased risk of a crash.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Drivers are Distracted More Than Half the Time They’re Behind the Wheel, March 8, 2016, By Aarian Marshall, CityLab

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NHTSA: More Americans Wearing Seat Belts, March 2, 2016, Miami Car Accident Attorney Blog