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Construction Depot

Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

July 14, 2015

Behind the wheel and distracted to death

"All together now, one two, three… Keep your mind on your driving… keep your hands on the wheel… Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead…" Paul Evans & The Curls got the message at least partially right back in September 1959 with the pop hit, "Seven Little Girls (Sitting In The Back Seat)." But today, the message is serious: visual, manual, and cognitive distractions all play a role in car crashes.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, "inattention" was No. 6 in the Top 10 driver errors in 2014 (the most recent year for published data), while being "sick, sleepy, or distracted" was a contributing factor in 9.8 percent of all crashes. "Using a cellphone" was a contributing factor in less than 1 percent of all crashes.

However, new research by Thomas A. Dingus and others suggests that some type of distraction is present during 52 percent of normal driving. The researchers used "naturalistic" driving data collected with onboard video cameras and sensors to evaluate risk factors during the seconds leading up to a crash. The most common distractions were interacting with an adult or teen passenger (15 percent), using a cellphone (6 percent), and using systems such as climate control and radio (4 percent).

Researchers reported that drivers were at twice the risk of having a crash involving injury or property damage while distracted, compared to times they were not distracted. The same study found that distraction was present in 68 percent of crashes that involved injury or property damage, and estimated that 36 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States could be avoided if no distractions were present.

The researchers note, "Crash causation has shifted dramatically in recent years, with driver-related factors (error, impairment, fatigue, and distraction) present in almost 90 percent of crashes."

Also out this month, a study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that in a comparison of 19 other "high-income" countries, the rate of motor vehicle crash deaths in the United States during 2013 (the closing year of the study) was approximately twice the average rate of the comparison countries. The study noted, "Although substantial progress has been made in reducing the number of motor vehicle crash deaths in the United States, motor vehicle crashes remain a serious public health problem resulting in [more than] 32,000 deaths and 2 million nonfatal injuries each year.

The study pointed out that approximately half the passenger vehicle occupants who died in crashes in the United States in 2013 were unrestrained and approximately 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired–driving crashes. Increasing restraint use and reducing alcohol-impaired driving, the study concluded, could have the most, as well as an immediate, impact in reducing motor vehicle crashes.



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