Consumer Reports Study; Young Adults, Cars, and Phones a Deadly Mix

April’s Consumer Reports’ Magazine shows the results of a new nationwide survey on distracted driving and the results are once again sobering.

The study, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, found that “almost two-thirds of the survey respondents had seen drivers in other vehicles texting on a cell phone or other mobile device, just in the previous 30 days. Almost all—94 percent—had observed motorists talking on a handheld phone. In the same period, more than half had seen a dangerous situation that was related to a distracted driver.”

To be clear, the term ‘distracted driving’ includes any behavior that make the driver take their focus off of the road, not just those that aren’t cell phone related, but the use of cell phones while driving has dramatically increased the number of distracted driving accidents. In 2009, the most recent year with available data, cell phones were involved in 18% of the 5,474 deaths, and people killed in fatal accidents involved the use of a cell phone according to the Department of Transportation.

Teens are the worst offenders, but adults set poor example

Among survey respondents under 30 years old, 63% reported using a handheld phone while driving within the previous 30 days and almost 33% had texted while driving. This compares to 41% and 9% respectively, of respondents who are 30 or older.

Just how distracting interacting with cell phones can be has been documented in several studies; in addition to the Department of Transportation’s data, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found the increase in texting while driving is estimated to have caused more than 16,000 additional road fatalities between 2001- 2007. And a report released by National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) and The Allstate Foundation in 2009 found that despite the recognition of the danger, 83% of teenagers admit that they talk on a cell phone while driving and 68% admit to texting while driving.

The Consumer Reports’ study also found that though 90% of their total survey respondents felt that texting while driving is very dangerous, and nearly 50% considered using a handheld phone very dangerous, almost a quarter of all respondents reported that it hasn’t led them to reduce or stop such behavior.

Increasing awareness and changing behaviors

Sobering as the report’s finding of nearly 25% of users not changing behavior, the flip side is that 78% of respondents said they had reduced or stopped behaviors related to distracted driving. This list shows what factors were most influential.

Additionally, when researchers asked teens to share ideas about what could be done to reduce distracted driving they received some clear feedback:

  • “Make it safe and acceptable to pull over to do such tasks.”
  • “Stiffer penalties, parents applying consequences for minors, and more education/awareness programs.”
  • “Adults don’t discipline like it’s a problem; parents are blind to it. They tell us do not drink and drive, but don’t say do not use the phone.”
  • “I think that apps … that prohibit a user from receiving or sending text messages while traveling over 10 mph are very helpful and should be more widely used.”
  • “Parents should let us kids have a Bluetooth headset so we wouldn’t be tempted to use our phones and take a hand off the steering wheel.”
  • “I know that my friend texts a lot while she’s driving, but whenever I’m in her car, I make her give me the phone and tell me what she wants me to write. …Peer pressure is such a powerful force when you have it in your corner.”

In addition to using technology to help reduce cell phone related distractions, I recommend that you spend time with any teens you parent or work with on the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation’s Distractology 101 Learning Challenge site. Their learning challenge is a real wake-up notice to users as they discover how much focus they lose when attempting to multi-task behind the wheel.

See more of my blogs on distracted driving:

Additional resources:

Together we can reshape attitudes and risky behaviors of cell phone users in cars.



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