April showers may bring May flowers, but it’s also the time of year safety advocates focus on making U.S. roads safer as it is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
A new study from the National Safety Council (NSC), the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association and the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, revealed that while backseat passengers demand extra attention from the driver, parents are less likely to be distracted by technology when driving with their children in the car.
Simply put, when kids are in the car, parents are extra safe when it comes to obeying the rules of the road for safe driving.
“The harsh reality is that thousands lose their lives each year in crashes where distracted driving plays a role,” said Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “We should all drive as though we have a loved one in our car on every trip, every time.”
Drivers still engaging in distracted driving
In the survey of 1,000 drivers ages 25 years and older who drive with children, nearly two-thirds of respondents admitted to regularly or occasionally programming a navigation system while driving alone.
That risky behavior dropped 20% when children were present in the car. Similarly, more than half of parents surveyed admitted to regularly or occasionally talking on the phone while driving, which dropped 13% when children were along for the ride.
Parents also ranked the top deterrents to phone use while driving, which included “having your child tell you they felt scared when you used your phone, having a loved one injured or killed, or being involved in a crash yourself.”
NSC is released the survey ahead of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, observed every April, to raise awareness and educate about the importance of being attentive behind the wheel.
Distracted driving often results in crashes
The NSC’s information confirms similar studies by AAA, which show that drivers who have been involved in a crash in the last two years are “significantly” more likely to be doing things like texting and driving and other distracted driving behaviors.
“The frequency of drivers in the United States engaging in improper behavior is too high. While drivers acknowledge that certain activities behind the wheel — like texting, are dangerous, some do them anyway,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “We need to be aware of the serious consequences of engaging in these types of dangerous driving behavior and change course.”
The group’s most recent Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI), which highlights the gap between drivers’ attitudes and their reported behaviors, found that drivers perceive distracted, aggressive and impaired driving as dangerous.
Yet many of them admit to engaging in at least one of these exact behaviors in the 30 days before the survey. The numbers were even higher for those involved in a recent crash:
- 50% of those involved in a recent crash admit to talking on a hand-held device while driving in the past month vs. 42% not involved in a crash
- 43% of those involved in a recent crash admit to texting while driving in the past month vs. 27% not involved in a crash
- 39% of those involved in a recent crash admit to running a red light in the past month vs. 30% not involved in a crash
This data shows that people are not altering their behavior even when it has resulted in a crash. AAA pointed out that distracted driving has the same deadly consequences as drinking and driving. It found that “taking your eyes off of the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of being involved in a crash.” Those collisions have a wide range of repercussions, often more involved than the drivers realize.
Consequences for first responders
First responders, in particular, are greatly affected by other motorists’ unsafe driving behavior as they come to the aid of people at roadway incident scenes, with an average of 100 workers killed or injured annually.
“Distraction-free driving keeps everyone safe, including first responders who put their lives in harm’s way to help when emergencies occur,” said Candice McDonald, 2nd Vice President of the nonprofit Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association that oversees ResponderSafety.com.
“When you see lights, vests or emergency vehicles, slow down and move over. Focus strictly on your driving. Help us do our job safely so we can get home to our families.”
Other important findings from the poll include about 80% of respondents unsafely use their phone when driving, whether in hand or hands-free.
COVID’s impact on road safety
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s driving habits with 11% of drivers surveyed admitting to driving faster than the speed limit, due to less congestion and traffic.
The survey showed that this was no surprise to about a quarter of drivers polled who felt behaviors such as speeding, technology distractions and driver fatigue were occurring more often due to COVID-19.
And the survey also showed that most still underestimate the risk emergency responders face when on the side of the highway. Only 2-in-5 consider a higher risk when seeing an emergency responder out of their vehicle on a highway.