If you have been in an accident with a distracted driver, you know how infuriating it can be. That is on top of the injuries and losses it can cause. Yet driver education programs and anti-distraction laws seem to have made little progress in reducing distracted driving.
Smartphones may be the main reason.
A company called Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) has released a new study that indicates that smartphone distraction is not only on the rise but may also be more common than generally thought.
The researchers note that it can be hard to identify which crashes are caused by distraction based on crash reports. These reports, submitted by police, are often incomplete and sometimes do not cite distraction that appears to have been there. In some states, distraction isn’t even listed as a possible cause on crash reports. Differences and inadequacies in reporting of crash data mean that distraction is probably underreported as a cause of car crashes.
CMT based its conclusions on insurance claims data. It found that, in 2019, at least 19% of all motor vehicle crashes were attributable to smartphone-based distractions. This is much higher than the percentage generally reported by safety organizations.
Are all distractions equal? Not according to this study.
It’s true that driver distraction existed before the advent of smartphone technology. Any kind of distraction can cause a crash. Anything that takes a driver’s attention from the road has the potential to cause a crash. This includes things like changing the radio station, scolding children, talking to passengers or even becoming lost in the scenery.
However, the CMT study found that at least 68% of all driver distractions are caused by smartphone use. This includes phone calls, texting, watching videos, using navigation apps and updating social media.
Moreover, the distraction caused by smartphone use lingers. The group learned that drivers are at a 70% higher risk for extreme braking during the 10 seconds after their phone distraction has ended. This “distraction hangover” is real and potentially deadly.
CMT is a telematics company, and it recommends telematics, or computer-monitored driving, as a way to combat distracted driving. Many drivers say they would be motivated to change their behavior in exchange for financial gain. For example, 39% said they would consider changing in exchange for an insurance discount, and 29% cited other rewards as motivating.
In order for telematics to be effective, CMT says, drivers need a constant loop of feedback on their driving. They need to see their progress regularly rather than have it be reflected on their six-month insurance bill.
By 2025, CMT projects, 4,000 people will be killed every year by smartphone distraction-related driving.