We tend to think of distracted driving as a threat mostly to young drivers, kids listening to the radio or chatting with friends.
But it’s a problem across all age groups, and one that cost 2,841 people their lives in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
There are three main things distracted drivers do that leads to peril: Take their eyes off the road, take their hands off the wheel, take their minds off their driving.
They do these things (sometimes more than one of them) while talking on a cell phone, while talking to a passenger, while eating and driving, while drinking a beverage, while fiddling with the radio or the climate controls. Applying makeup. Checking maps. Some people text while they drive (see “all three at once” above). And way too many of us have had the horror-movie moment of glancing at a passing vehicle on the highway and seeing a newspaper or book propped on the steering wheel.
According to the CDC, “At 55 miles per hour, sending or reading a text is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.”
Since 2010, annual distracted driving deaths in the U.S. have ranged from a high of 3,526 in 2015 to 2018’s low number. About 20 percent of the people killed in distracted-driving crashes were not in vehicles, but rather they were pedestrians, bicyclists or otherwise not in a vehicle.
Roughly a quarter of the drivers in 2018’s distracted-driving crashes were aged 20-29 (680 of them), and about 8 percent of those drivers involved in fatal crash were distracted. Drivers aged 15-19 made up a smaller percentage of drivers, but were more likely to have been distracted; 237 of them, 8 percent, were distracted at the time of their crash, and 9 percent of all teenagers killed in motor vehicle crashes died in crashes that involved distraction.
For the 256 drivers aged 70 or older involved in fatal crashes in 2018, five percent were distracted at the time, the same percentage as drivers in the 30-39 and 40-49 ranges.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an observational study in 2018 by the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) found that 3.2 percent of drivers stopped at intersections were talking on handheld cell phones.
“An estimated 9.7 percent of drivers were using some type of phone, either handheld or hands-free, at a typical daylight moment in 2018,” according to the Traffic Safety Facts research note “Driver Electronic Device Use in 2018,” released a year ago.
States, including New York, have passed a number of laws to discourage distracted driving: graduated licensing for young drivers; bans on use of hand-held cell phones while driving; bans on texting and driving. We have “texting zones” at the rest areas on our highways and interstates.
How vital could a call or a text be, that it can’t wait a minute until you can safely pull over? Maybe it’s important, but more important than someone’s life?
All we ask is that you put away the phone, or the food, or the makeup for a few minutes.
All we ask is that you pay attention.