The most common distraction for drivers today is talking on cell phones. That fact is undeniable, and all you have to do to validate it is to drive around town for ten minutes. But cell phones, although distracting, don’t cause the most crashes. That dubious honor goes to a much less high-tech problem drivers often have—taking one hand off the wheel to reach for a moving object, like a drink that’s about to spill.
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have shown that the simple act of reaching for something while driving is so distracting that it increases the risk of crashes and near-crashes nearly nine times.
In fact, inattentive driving on the whole is the leading factor in most automobile crashes. In the NHTSA-Virginia Tech study, researchers fitted 100 cars with video cameras and sensors and monitored drivers’ behaviors for more than a year. The results showed that in 78% of wrecks, the driver had taken his eyes of the road within 3 seconds before the wreck occurred. Reading while driving—such as reading directions, looking at maps, or reading a coupon or receipt—boosted the risk of wrecks by almost 3.5 times. Applying makeup was also a big risk.
Although reaching for items while driving causes the most number of wrecks, drivers don’t reach for things nearly as often as they talk on cell phones. And although cell phones aren’t the biggest culprits, they are responsible for a great number of automobile wrecks, not only from handling and dialing the phone, but also from the driver paying more attention to the conversation than to the road.
Ann McCartt, vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, says that the safest approach to driving for anyone is just to keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road. "You never know when someone will pull out in front of you, or when you‘ll be faced with another situation beyond your control. That’s when something that seems harmless—like talking on the phone or changing the radio station—becomes danger. It’s not exciting to hear, but drivers reed to focus on driving."
Top Ten Driver Distractions (from the NHTSA-Virginia Tech study):
- Using a wireless device, such as a cell phone
- Talking to and interacting with passengers
- Reaching for CDs, food, falling objects, or other internal distractions
- Programming radio stations or tinkering with dashboard controls
- Using an electric razor, applying makeup, or other personal hygiene-related actions
- Unwrapping a burger, opening a can, or other movements when eating at the wheel
- External distractions such as pointing out a funny billboard or pedestrian
- Talking or singing to yourself
By Buzzle Staff and Agencies