Driving While Distracted – Keep Your Eyes On The Road

by Edward Harris on September 14, 2021

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. Common distracted driving activities include texting, talking on the phone, eating while you are driving, looking at a passenger (front or rear seat), adjusting the radio, or attempting to adjust the entertainment or navigation system.

Public service announcements have helped increase awareness to the problem, but too many fatalities continue to occur. Distracted driving prevention software products have recently been introduced, and are typically effective. The patented technology is fairly inexpensive and is offered by many companies. Many of the technological advances now are standard additions to newer vehicles.

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

More than 38,000 people died in car crashes in each of the previous two years, 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. Taking your eyes off the road while texting and driving about mph is similar to driving about 90 yards with your eyes closed.

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 additional temptations, although it’s too early to interpret any data. Motorist reaction time is slower (compared to phones) with all of the extra features on newer watches. Voice-activated features help reduce some of the risk, and most new vehicles contain those features. Talking on the phone though vehicle speakers is quite common.


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. Drivers under age 21 are especially less likely to discuss or admit situations when they were texting while driving.

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, it certainly has occurred. Note: Voice-activated features from the steering wheel or dashboard of newer vehicles have helped reduce fatalities. The positions of the buttons have been tweaked in recent years.


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. With newer and more expensive vehicles on the road, the average damage per accident will continue to rise.

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. Drivers have become accustomed to this feature, and are able to concentrate on driving much better. 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,  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. By 2022, it is expected that more than 98% of all vehicles will be equipped with this technology.

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.  Although texting by voice is slightly less dangerous, it still creates a major distraction.

Also, 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  regularly check records of existing customers. Moving violations in another state may impact the rate you pay if you are considering changing carriers. The difference between one and two moving violations can be significant.

Some states may be toughing their laws soon. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was  signed into law 10 years ago, and contained $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. The goal of the legislation was to reduce injuries, fatalities, and crashes involving buses and large trucks. More than $100 billion was allocated to improve the nation’s surface transportation. The program is performance-based, which helped eliminate unwanted corporate and government misuse and waste.


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 or a transfer from a standard rate to a non-standard or high-risk rate.

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.

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