Distracted Driving On The Rise
December 9, 2011

Distracted Driving On The Rise

A new report released by the US government´s transportation arm on Thursday shows that despite all the legal bans and criticism, texting by drivers continues to increase, especially among young motorists.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration´s survey is the first government study of its kind on distracted driving. The results emphasizes the difficulty authorities face in discouraging drivers from using their mobile devices behind the wheel.

The survey found that half of American drivers between 21 and 24 say they have texted or emailed while driving. And more upsetting is the fact that many drivers do not think it is dangerous when they do it, but is when others do.

Last year, nearly 1 in 100 drivers was texting, emailing, or web-surfing, according to the NHTSA report. And those activities were up 50 percent from the year before, even as 35 states have passed bans on such practices.

Officials with the transportation department said the study was designed to help regulators understand “why some people continue to make bad decisions” about driving while distracted.

“What's clear from all of the information we have is that driver distraction continues to be a major problem,” said David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Even as drivers continue to text and email, Strickland´s agency found, in separate findings, that traffic fatalities decreased from 2009 to 2010. The agency found 32,855 people were killed on US roads in 2010, compared to 33,808 in 2009.  The findings are surprising, given that drivers traveled 46 billion more miles in 2010 than in the previous year -- an increase of 1.6 percent.

However, NHTSA believes the number of deaths from distracted driving -- 3,092 -- could actually be higher because most people may be unwilling to always admit their driving behavior, and perhaps lack of witnesses to traffic accidents. It said that 5 percent of motorists observed at any one time last year were talking on a hand-held cell phone, remaining unchanged from 2009.

Within the survey findings, NHTSA officials found that more than 75 percent of motorists say they are willing to answer a call while driving and rarely consider traffic conditions when doing so. However, about a third of the same drivers said they would feel unsafe as a passenger if their driver was using a cell phone.

Another surprising find in the survey was that a majority of drivers (71 percent) support bans on hand-held devices, and 94 percent said they would support texting bans. And most said they want people who violate the bans to be punished with stiff fines, ranging from $100 to $499.

“While we have more work to do to continue to protect American motorists, these numbers show we´re making historic progress when it comes to improving safety on our nation´s roadways,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

Even though using mobile devices while driving is being critiqued by the NHTSA, it notes that drunk driving caused more crash fatalities last year than did cell phone use. The agency says the drunk-driving toll was 10,228 in 2010, compared to 3,029 for distracted-driving.

The NHTSA survey can be found here.