Distracted Drivers Cause Majority of Crashes
inattention is the leading factor in most crashes
and near-crashes, according to a landmark research
report released recently by the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).
The most common distraction for drivers is the
use of cell phones. However, the number of crashes
and near-crashes attributable to dialing is nearly
identical to the number associated with talking
or listening. Dialing is more dangerous but occurs
less often than talking or listening.
Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of
near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention
within three seconds before the event. Primary
causes of driver inattention are distracting activities,
such as cell phone use, and drowsiness.
"This important research illustrates the
potentially dire consequences that can occur while
driving distracted. It's crucial that drivers
always be alert when on the road," said Jacqueline
Glassman, acting administrator of NHTSA.
The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study tracked
the behavior of the drivers of 100 vehicles equipped
with video and sensor devices for more than one
year. During that time, the vehicles were driven
nearly 2,000,000 miles, yielding 42,300 hours
of data. The 241 drivers of the vehicles were
involved in 82 crashes, 761 near crashes, and
8,295 critical incidents.
"The huge database developed through this
breakthrough study is enormously valuable in helping
us to understand-and prevent-motor vehicle crashes,"
said Dr. Tom Dingus, director of VTTI.
In addition, a follow-on analysis to the 100-Car
Study has also been released. Focused on the types
of driver inattention and their associated risk,
key findings include:
Drowsiness is a significant problem that increases
a driver's risk of a crash or near-crash by at
least a factor of four. But drowsy driving may
be significantly under-reported in police crash
Reaching for a moving object increased the risk
of a crash or near-crash by 9 times; looking at
an external object by 3.7 times; reading by 3
times; applying makeup by 3 times; dialing a hand-held
device (typically a cell phone) by almost 3 times;
and talking or listening on a hand-held device
by 1.3 times.
Drivers who engage frequently in distracting activities
are more likely to be involved in an inattention-related
crash or near-crash. However, drivers are often
unable to predict when it is safe to look away
from the road to multi-task because the situation
can change abruptly leaving the driver no time
to react even when looking away from the forward
roadway for only a brief time.
The 100-Car Study and its follow-on analysis were
co-sponsored by NHTSA, the Virginia Transportation
Research Council (the research division of the
Virginia Department of Transportation) and Virginia
Tech.The background and results of both studies
are available on NHTSA's website.