Is distracted driving really such a big problem?

Everyone does it, right? That might have been the response of some Worcester residents to our last blog post about Kendall Jenner's singing-dancing-recording and driving video that she posted online. The video elicited a widespread backlash among safety advocates.

Some may feel that this type of behavior is just teenagers being teenagers. Some adults may also know that they use portable devices behind the wheel too. So this week, let's take a little deeper look at the issue with some facts and statistics from distraction.gov, the U.S. government's official distracted driving website. This is just for general context, not specific legal advice.

First of all, we should note that eating and drinking, reading a map, putting on makeup and even talking to others in the car may all be considered distracting activities. Texting and driving, however, is considered particularly distracting in that it requires manual and cognitive focus from the driver as well as visual. To illustrate:

  • Five seconds: average amount of time a driver's eyes are off the road while texting.
  • The length of an entire football field: how far your car travels in that amount of time at 55 mph.

The next time a distracted driver tries to tell you they can text and drive safely on the highway, ask them if they think they could safely drive the length of a football field while blindfolded.

Unfortunately, many seem to think they can do just that. One in four teenagers have indicated that they text at least once every time they get in the car. One in five teens -- and one in 10 adults -- have longer, back-and-forth text conversations behind the wheel. It may be no surprise then that in 2012, over 420,000 victims suffered injuries in car accidents where distracted drivers were involved. That's up 9 percent from the year before.

If that trend continues, we could see half a million or more accident injuries per year just because drivers weren't paying attention. Anyone who doesn't think that's a big problem has probably never experienced the pain and suffering of an auto accident firsthand.

Source: Distraction.gov, "What Is Distracted Driving?" accessed on Aug. 8, 2014