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More Distractions, More Risks

In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 5,474 Americans lost their lives on our nation’s highways as a result of driving distractions. The federal agency indicated that 20 percent of car accidents resulting in injury involved reports of distracted driving and that this percentage represents an estimated 448,000 injuries.

While many states and the federal government has pushed legislation to curtail the problem, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently announced study findings on this risky driving behavior. The first comprehensive overview for the nonprofit, representing the territorial and state safety offices, considered research from more than 350 scientific papers published between 2000 and 2011 on the issue of distracted driving.

The GHSA study came to many conclusions. While at least one driver was reported to have been distracted in 15 to 25 percent of crashes, the research revealed that the portion of distracted drivers may be higher than what has been reported. The group also found that few countermeasures are in place for distracted drivers on our nation’s roads, that distracted driving interferes with driver alertness, and that there is not clear evidence that hands-free phone use is safer than hand-held phone use.

The GHSA makes recommendations to improve highway safety and combat this risky driver behavior. The group calls for employers to develop distracted driving policies and programs, and for the automotive industry to develop, test and implement plans that deal with driver workloads and systems that warn drivers about this risky behavior. Also, the non-profit suggests that the federal government should evaluate the effectiveness of distracted driving programs, track trends, and continue to develop campaigns to address the problem.

While most states have distracted driving laws in place, some advocacy groups do not think that the present measures are enough. Still, others think that the current laws and programs are overkill, given that national traffic fatalities have significantly dropped over the past several years.

While some accidents are beyond human control, many are preventable. Because of this, distracted driving is a real safety issue that must be addressed in order for our roads to be safer.