Driving While Distracted – Keep Your Eyes On The Road

by Edward Harris on April 13, 2013

Despite stricter enforcement and tougher driving laws, Americans are still pulling out their phones and texting at alarming rates when they are behind the wheel. Driving while distracted continues to cost property damage, and more importantly, lives. A recent study from Erie Insurance found that it is not only cell phones that are distracting today’s busy drivers, but many other factors.

Erie analyzed data from police reports in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which is a nationwide database of fatal car crashes administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The data examined was from Ohio, and most other states in the US. The insurer also worked with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety when compiling the results. GPS devices and other dashboard options are frequently the reason for drivers temporarily taking their eyes off the road.

Keep Your Eyes On The Road

For example, in 2015 and 2016, 50,000 people died in car crashes, and 10 percent of those fatalities were caused when at least one driver involved was distracted. Analysts found the results disturbing when they closely examined fatal accident police reports across the country. Obviously, there was a trend that was alarming. And the vast majority of these fatalities could have been easily prevented, since they were human error, miscalculation, or distraction.

The study found that while the most common term used in police reports was “generally distracted” or “lost in thought,” some reports were more specific in regards to the actual type. As expected, cell phones played a prominent role in the rankings. And in the last few years, Smartphones have become more popular, with  internet access in almost all areas.

This has presented an additional challenge for legislators when determining which laws are the most appropriate, while protecting individual rights. And the Apple Watch may be presenting new temptations, although it’s too early to interpret any data.


Here are the top 10 reasons for distracted driving according to Erie:

Because the data in FARs is at the police officers discretion, it may be hard to validate, and may have underrepresented the actual number of deaths. Doug Smith (Senior Vice President of Erie) stressed that drivers may not admit to driving distracted when talking to a police officer which could affect the true number of distracted driving cases.

Based on that premise, there may be as much as 20% more unreported incidences, making the problem much larger than originally thought. For example, the reported incidences of cell-phone use is especially thought to be under-reported. Although we don't believe usage of iPads is a potential problem, but nothing would surprise us!

Distracted Driving is Extremely Dangerous

The statistics are astounding. According to Distraction.gov, drivers using any type of hand-held device are four times more likely to get into a serious car crash. Studies have found that texting creates a crash risk that is 23 times worse than drivers who are not distracted. And typically, the damage caused by these accidents (bodily injury and property damage) is significant, generally $25,000 or more.

A Carnegie Mellon University study also discovered that brain activity which is associated with operating vehicles, drops by 37 percent when a driver uses a cell phone. Utilizing the speakers in a vehicle to transmit the voice from a cell phone may possibly lessen the chance of having an accident. And as previously mentioned, most of these situations can be prevented.

NOTE: With Bluetooth technology now widely available, utilizing speakers or earbuds/earphones is having a positive impact. Although concentration is still a concern, at least the focus on the road is much higher than texting or calling someone. Also, the percentage of vehicles that offer this technology should continue to steadily increase.

Texting And Driving Raise Insurance Rates

Don't Do This!

Despite these statistics and the widely publicized danger of distracted driving many drivers are still picking up their phones. A  survey completed by AAA discovered that while 95 percent of those surveyed think that texting while driving is a dangerous behavior, 33 percent admitted to texting behind the wheel in the last month. Those numbers are very frightening and may get worse until it is properly addressed.

In addition to being dangerous, this type of driving is illegal in most states. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) a total of 39 states currently ban distracted driving in one form or another. The laws vary in both scope and severity. While some states make it a primary offense, meaning that a driver can be pulled over only for texting, in other states it is a secondary offense so a driver must be pulled over for another offense before being ticketed.

Check Your BMV Report

Since it will be reported to the Bureau Of Motor Vehicles, it is likely that your car insurance company will have access to the information. And of course, that could result in a higher rate. We will discuss this further below. NOTE: Teenage car insurance rates  in Ohio are significantly impacted if you receive one of these violations. Typically, the surcharge may be higher than if an adult received the same violation. Most Buckeye State companies do regularly check records of existing customers.

Some states may be toughing their laws soon. The recently authorized Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) contains $17.5 million to be awarded to states that enact or are currently enforcing this type of behavior. The laws must be primary for a state to qualify for an award. It is expected that half (or more) states will be participants in this new offering.

Impact On Your Insurance

As states ramp up laws and enforcement a distracted driving ticket will have a bigger impact on your insurance premium. When it is considered a moving violation, a ticket will  show up on your driving record, which will often trigger a rate increase. Experts warn that a first offense can result in a rate increase of 10 to 20 percent and up to 40 percent for a second offense.  A third violation could cause a non-renewal of the policy.

However, since each company's underwriting guidelines are different, it is possible that there would be no premium increases until the second violation, and long-term customers would not be at risk for being canceled.

Latest News:

December 2014 - House Bill 637 seeks to make texting while driving a primary offense, which means police officials would have the authority to stop a driver if they suspected he/she was texting. Currently, this offense is considered a misdemeanor and is subject to a $150 fine. Many recent editorials (Columbus Dispatch for example) share the view that the new law should be passed.

May 2015 - The Ohio Turnpike now has a distracted driver simulator to help drivers understand the risks of not focusing on the road. It was available last month in Amherst a the Middle Ridge Service Plaza. Last month was National Distracted Driver Awareness Month . Another simulator is available that duplicates conditions while driving by a construction zone.

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