Study mirrors local law enforcement views on driving distractions
By MARK SOMMERHAUSER
The Fulton Sun
with an AP report
Distractions abound inside the modern automobile - with cellular phones, CD players and navigation systems all competing for a driver's attention.
“There are more bells and whistles than ever before,” said Fulton Police Department Chief Steve Myers. “Just cars themselves are distracting.”
But here's a new statistic to make drivers take heed: roughly eight of 10 car crashes involve drivers facing specific distractions, such as drowsiness, applying makeup or tinkering with one of the above devices.
The information is suggested from a study released Thursday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in which more than 200 drivers were videotaped behind the wheel.
Called the 100-Car Study, the massive research project analyzed nearly 2 million miles driven, more than 43,300 hours of data, and tracked 241 drivers involved in 82 crashes of varying severity as well as 761 near-crashes.
And when the study was complete, what conclusions did government researchers draw?
The one that's long been held by local law enforcement officials, based on countless accident reports and personal observations.
“For the last 10 years, we've seen driver inattention be the number-one factor on (crash) reports,” said Capt. Chris Ricks, spokesperson for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“It's a higher contributor to crashes than driving while intoxicated,” Ricks added. “It's a problem, and we applaud any attempt to bring it to people's attention.”
Fulton Police Department officers recently have noted a glut of rear-end collisions on Highway 54 - a problem they attribute largely to driver inattention.
Myers said his force has keyed in on cell-phone conversations as a particular distraction, especially among young drivers.
“Particularly with teens,” Myers said, “we see a lot more accidents where inattention is a contributing factor.”
Cell-phone use in vehicles and the larger issue of distracted driving has generated considerable attention in recent years, with Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia prohibiting talking on hand-held cell phones while driving.
Researchers in this study found that dialing a cell phone increased the risk of a crash by nearly three times.
Reaching for a moving object while driving increased the risk of a crash by nine times, while reading or applying makeup from behind the wheel enhanced the risk by three times.
Drowsy driving increased the driver's risk of a crash or near-crash by four to six times, the study said. But the study's authors noted drowsy driving is frequently underreported in police crash investigations.