In five seconds to respond to a text message, brush off a layer of mascara or unwrap a breakfast sandwich, a vehicle traveling at 90 km/h can cover the length of a football field. Succumbing to these common distractions is like driving that distance blindfolded, road safety experts say.
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents in the United States. Every day, nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes related to distracted driving. In Virginia, distracted driving contributed to 20,918 crashes and 117 fatal crashes throughout 2021, according to the Virginia Traffic Records Electronic Data System.
Distracted driving of any kind increases crash risk for drivers, passengers and other motorists, said David Tenembaum, chief actuarial officer for Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and member of the Board of Directors of DSV.
“Distracted driving is a huge problem,” he said. “We are asking all drivers to commit to driving distraction-free in April and to adopt this practice in the future.”
The Institute of Transportation at Virginia Tech reported on which distracted behaviors are the most dangerous. Text messages are at the top of the list, which increases the risk of an accident by 23 times. Hitting moving objects inside the car is a ninefold risk. Drowsy driving, forgetfulness, reading and makeup were also on the list.
Virginia law now prohibits drivers from handling cell phones while driving, but studies show hands-free technology isn’t distraction-proof either.
“While there are many ways to distract a driver, cell phone use is the most egregious because it involves all three types of distraction – manual, visual and cognitive,” Tenembaum added. “For this reason, we encourage all drivers to put down their phones and focus on the important task of driving.”
To limit distractions, motorists are advised to program GPS and hands-free devices before leaving the driveway. Stop in a safe place when doing anything that will take your eyes or mind off the road. Focus on driving – don’t drive when you’re upset or overtired.
When free of distractions, a driver can be prepared for the unpredictability of motorists who may themselves be distracted.
“Make sure everyone is properly buckled up,” Tenembaum said. “It’s your best defense against distracted drivers.”
To learn more about Drive Smart Virginia initiatives, visit drivesmartva.org/current-projects.