Two new studies receiving media attention this month indicate that the problem of distracted driving in Oregon and elsewhere around the country may be even worse than many people think.
According to the Associated Press the first study, released earlier this month by the safety-advocacy group the National Safety Council found that “crash deaths in cases where drivers were on the phone were seriously underreported… The underreporting makes the problem of distracted driving appear less significant than it actually is and impedes efforts to win passage of tougher laws.” The group examined car crash data for 2009 through 2011.
Perhaps the most surprising finding of the study was that “even when drivers admitted to authorities that they were using a phone during an accident in which someone was killed, about half the cases weren’t recorded that way in the database, the council said” referring to the highway safety database maintained by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The sense that the distracted problem may be even more widespread than is commonly acknowledged is reinforced by another study, this one from the University of Michigan, published this week, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. That report “suggests teens are hardly the only ones guilty of taking their eyes, or minds, or both, off the task of driving.”
The Michigan report focuses on cellphone use and other distractions among adult drivers. Its intent is not to minimize the well documented, and widely reported, problem of distracted driving among teens, but to remind readers that the distracted driving problem is not confined to younger and less experienced drivers. Focusing on parents transporting children under the age of 12, it found that 75% acknowledged using a cellphone while driving (this figure includes those using a hands-free device – the only way such driving is legal here in Oregon), but also that “almost 70 percent of parents groomed and fed themselves” while behind the wheel “and about 15 percent typed or read text messages while driving.”
As a Portland distracted driving lawyer one, sadly, has to say that these findings are less a surprise than a confirmation of what many of us, frankly, already knew. They should also, however, serve as a reminder of the important role parents need to play in setting an example for their children and of the fact that government statistics alone rarely capture the true scope of a problem like Oregon distracted driving. Educational campaigns focused on young people are right and necessary, but we should also be taking every opportunity to remind parents and other adults both of the special responsibility they have whenever they are driving children and of the fact that many years of experience behind the wheel does not give one some special exemption from the dangers distracted driving can pose.
San Diego Union-Tribune: Parents among worst distracted drivers
AP via Yahoo! News: Study: Distracted driving deaths underreported