Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 20% of all injury crashes and 18% of automobile fatalities in 2009 (the latest data available) were the result of distracted driving. One of the biggest distractions? Talking or texting behind the wheel. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) claims drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to cause injury. Many people bristle at the idea that using a mobile phone is any bigger distraction than changing the radio station or sipping coffee. But before you shoot the messenger, consider that anything that takes your attention away from the business of driving puts you and your passengers at risk of a crash. And one crash can be all it takes to wreck havoc with your car insurance premiums.
So what exactly counts as a distraction? The Distraction.gov website says they fall into three main types:
- Visual (you look away from the road)
- Manual (you take your hands off the wheel)
- Cognitive (you’re not mentally focused on driving)
Talking on a cell phone touches all three bases. (Yes, we know, so does putting on mascara, a practice no sane person condones.)
Many state governments have reacted to the dangers of talking while driving by enacting legislation specifically forbidding the use of hand-held phones behind the wheel. Currently, 9 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington) and the District of Columbia have laws on the books that specify talking on a hand-held phone as a careless driving offense. Nevada’s ban will go into effect January 1, 2012. Many other states place restrictions on the practice based on age and other conditions. You can get the entire list at the IIHS website.
Yet many drivers ignore the grim statistics and the laws. They continue to risk injury and jeopardize lower car insurance premiums by talking and driving. The Harris Poll surveyed 2,163 adults between June 13 and 20, 2011, and found that 77% of those surveyed believe hand-held mobiles are actually safer than hands-free mobiles, despite numerous studies that find both devices pose equally dangerous distractions. Sixty percent admitted to talking while driving: 5% all the time and 55% sometimes. Not surprisingly, the poll found that the majority of offenders are fall in age groups 18-34 and 35-46. Plus, 57% of all drivers surveyed rated themselves as better than average drivers, an opinion that is likely to make the phoning-and-driving risk worse because they believe their mad driving skills will keep them from trouble.
Regardless of the kind of driver you believe yourself to be, ask yourself a couple questions before you phone and drive:
- Is the conversation so important that it can’t wait until you’ve stopped your car?
- Do you want to join the 5,474 people who were killed and the estimated 448,000 people who were injured in car crashes reported to have involved distracted driving according to 2009 FARS data?
Or would you rather arrive at your destination safe, if not as up-to-speed the latest haps, and enjoy lower car insurance premiums?