Hands off: Distracted driving risk changing

WASHINGTON — A new study on distracted driving concludes the source of distraction has morphed dramatically in recent years.

“We’ve seen a big increase in the percentage of drivers manipulating cellphones behind the wheel,” said Russ Rader, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “to text, or to check email, or to dial, as opposed to using the phone for a phone call.”

Rader says behavior has become more risky since the last survey on distracted driving, conducted in 2014, concluded distracted drivers were often talking on a cellphone. In the new study, Rader said: “Drivers in northern Virginia were 57 percent more likely to be manipulating a phone behind the wheel.”

The highway safety group estimates drivers manipulating their phones resulted in more than 800 crash deaths in 2017, of the 37,000 nationwide car deaths.

Rader said drivers have not seemed very interested in using phone-based technology which precludes them from using it while driving.

“Even people with phones with the technology, or the apps, standard on their phones, only about 1 in 5 enabled the phone blocking system,” Rader said.

The IIHS suggests the solution to the problem would include changing social norms, strengthening and enforcing distracted driving laws, and harnessing technology in automobiles.

“Things like automatic emergency braking, we know that is working to reduce the kinds of crashes that occur in commuter traffic because people aren’t paying attention,” said Rader. “But those kind of high tech systems are not in very many vehicles yet.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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