Risky business: the six worst driver distractions

It seems motorists are their own worst enemies behind the wheel

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

Statistics suggest that 94 percent of all vehicular crashes occur because of human error. Sure, accidents can and will happen, but the results of a recent study found that a whopping 87 percent of motorists engage — and do so purposefully — in one or more risky behaviors. That’s according to a survey of 2,442 licensed drivers conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington, D.C.

Here’s the litany of the worst sins U.S. drivers confessed to committing at least once behind the wheel in the 30 days prior to the date the survey was conducted:

  1. Driven to distraction

Nearly 70 percent of motorists admitting to talking on a cell phone while driving, with nearly one in three doing so regularly. Around 42 percent said they’ve read text messages or email, and 32 percent admitted to typing a message or email.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is responsible for at least 3,000 deaths per year, and probably many more than have been reported. Consider this eye-opening fact: drivers who take their attention away from the road for more than two seconds at a time can double their risk of being in a crash.

  1. Too fast, too furious

Nearly half (48 percent) of drivers surveyed said they exceeded the posted speed limit by 15 mph on the highway, while 45 percent reported going 10 mph over the limit on a residential street.

NHTSA reports excessive speed to be a factor in around 10,000 deaths annually. Speeding not only increases the risk of getting into a crash in the first place, drivers are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in higher-speed wrecks.

  1. Wake up and smell the coffee

Nearly a third (32 percent) of those queried reported that they’ve not only driven while drowsy, but to the extent they could barely keep their eyes open. The AAA Foundation estimates drowsy driving results in around 328,000 crashes per year and is responsible for 109,000 crashes that result in injuries and 6,400 with fatalities.

  1. (Not) seeing red

More than 39 percent of drivers surveyed admitted to bolting through an intersection when the traffic signal had just turned red, even though they were otherwise able to safely stop their cars. According to NHTSA data, 627 people perished in crashes caused by careless/aggressive drivers running red lights during 2013.

  1. Unbuckled

Eighteen percent of motorists admitted to driving without fastening their seatbelts. Going beltless is more than just a poor fashion choice, as nearly half of all vehicle fatalities registered by NHTSA during 2013 were determined to be unrestrained at the time of the crash.

  1. A few too many

A woeful 13 percent confessed that they’d driven while under the influence during the most recent month, with a blood-alcohol level that might have garnered them a DUI had they been caught. NHTSA says 10,000 traffic fatalities annually involve drivers having an alcohol level of .08 or higher, which is the legal threshold for a DUI in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

So what to make of all this? “There is a culture of indifference for far too many drivers when it comes to road safety,” explains the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s president and CEO Peter Kissinger. “The vast majority of motorists believe they are more careful than others on the road, though most of them are not making safe decisions while behind the wheel.”

© CTW Features


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