The Risks of Distracted Driving

The other day someone asked me, “based on all your experience with insurance and risk, what is the one single most important thing people can do to be safer?”

My answer was “don’t drive distracted, and don’t let anybody else do it”. Most people understand the risk of drinking and driving, but few really understand the impact of distraction.

According to the NHTSA, more than 3,000 people are killed and over half a million injured per year due to proven distracted driving incidents, and those numbers are understated because few will admit to it. Statistics show distracted driving puts you at significant risk and every distracted driver responsible for an accident thought those statistics only applied to others. Some roll the dice on their own well-being, but if they hurt others, the liability consequences are huge (see “Did You Know” on the right).

Unfortunately I have personal experience with the consequences of distracted driving. Back in May of 2011 I was stopped in freeway traffic near Los Angeles when my world exploded. A teenage boy texting and driving rear-ended my SUV going nearly 50 mph. My right leg and pelvis were fractured and I was in for surgery and painful rehab that lasted a year. The boy had inadequate insurance and no assets so my own underinsured motorists coverage paid my medical bills. Still, I have a good reason to get angry when I see drivers texting.

Texting might be the most dangerous form of distraction. In 2009, a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration showed drivers texting were 23 times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event compared to baseline. And texting was 6 times more dangerous than driving while reading a book. Yikes!

But texting isn’t the only form of distraction. Cellphone use draws your mental concentration away from the road, so hands-free use is only a partial solution. Eating, applying make-up and looking down at your GPS are also dangerous forms of distraction.

Teenage drivers are particularly prone to distraction. Compared to driving alone, teenage drivers are 44% more likely to die when driving with another teenager. With two teenage passengers, 100% more likely. And a teenage driver with three teenage passengers is an incredible 400% more likely to die compared to driving alone.

So what’s the bottom line?

  1. Concentrate on driving. Don’t text and drive, don’t violate your state’s cellphone laws and don’t tolerate it from your family. If traffic is busy or conditions are dicey don’t use your cellphone.
  2. Make sure your auto policy is set up with high limits for underinsured motorists. If an irresponsible distracted driver hits you, there is a good chance they will be irresponsible in other ways, specifically little if any insurance and few assets.
  3. If you run a business, establish distracted driving language for your employee handbook and secure acknowledgement that each employee has read the handbook including the firm’s policy against using cellphones and other electronic devices while driving.
  4. If you have teenage drivers, use a graduated driving program where they first drive with you, then alone during the day, then later with friends and delay the most dangerous type of driving, with friends after 9pm, for as long as possible so your teen can get more driving experience. I recommend parents with teenage drivers watch this video: