Car crashes and distractions examined in new study

Researchers found wrecks were more likely to occur when drivers were distracted, plus certain activities, including using cell phones, were extremely risky.

Even when drivers in Charleston pay careful attention to road conditions, monitor traffic flow and stay alert, they are still at risk for an accident. This is because fellow motorists may not be so attentive to their environment. researchers decided to examine how big of an influence a distraction could be in causing a crash.

Observing drivers in action

The research team at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute knew there are several factors that may result in automobile wrecks, and some are not immediately obvious. However, they also felt that driving experiments and crash data did not give the information they needed to determine the danger posed by distractions.

To compensate for the lack of existing data, researchers recruited 3,500 study participants ranging in age from 16 to 98 and got them to agree to have cameras and tracking devices installed in their cars for three years.

Most crashes involved distracted drivers

When people get into accidents, they may injure themselves or others, or contribute to property damage. Researchers looked at 905 such scenarios and found 68 percent of the drivers were obviously distracted at the time of the accident. Additionally, people were most likely to get into a crash if they did something that involved looking away from the road. Finally, it was determined that driver error was a contributing factor in three-quarters of the accidents that occurred.

Cellphones are the most dangerous distraction

Data revealed there are several actions that could make people more likely to harm themselves, other motorists or people who are on foot. They include:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Reaching for objects
  • Using touchscreen dash panels

However, using a mobile phone was determined the riskiest distracted-driver behavior. Compared to people who drove safely, drivers who used cellphones were four times more likely to get into a wreck, researchers said.

Novice drivers take more risks as skills improve

Some newer drivers are so overwhelmed by the unfamiliar task at hand that they would not dream of taking their hands off the wheel or looking away from the road for fear of making a fatal mistake. That conscientious attitude could lead to safer driving, but a separate study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated novice drivers are more likely to get distracted by secondary tasks as they log more hours in their vehicles.

The researchers who compiled data for that study also found distracted driving was a major reason for motor vehicle crashes. That was true whether drivers were inexperienced, or had been driving for years. However, scientists realized while the prevalence of risky behavior while driving increased over time for novice motorists, the same was not true among people who were well accustomed to driving.

According to the West Virginia Legislature it is unlawful for people to text while driving, and to use cell phones unless those devices have hands-free accessories.

Although that progress is a step in the right direction, it still does not eliminate all factors that may distract drivers and cause them to crash. If you have questions about the legal ramifications of distracted driving in the state, it may be a good idea to meet with an attorney.