The top three distractions for drivers are texts, phone calls and children in the backseat, but in what may seem counter intuitive, nearly all parents altered their driving behavior and were less likely to be distracted by technology — GPS, music devices, phone or looking at notifications — when their children were in the car.
Those are the highlights of a new survey of parents released last month by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit advocacy group. The results were announced in advance of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, observed every April to recognize and bring attention to the importance of being attentive when driving and the dangers of distraction.
“The harsh reality is that thousands lose their lives each year in crashes where distracted driving plays a role,” Lorraine Martin, president and chief executive of the National Safety Council, said in a statement. “We should all drive as though we have a loved one in our car on every trip, every time.”
The survey asked 1000 parents 25 years and older who drive with children in the car about their driving behaviors. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents admitted to regularly or occasionally using a navigation system while driving alone, but that risky behavior dropped 20% when children were present in the car. In addition, more than half of parents surveyed admitted to regularly or occasionally talking on the phone while driving, which dropped 13% when children were along for the ride.
Parents also ranked the main deterrents to using a cellphone while driving. Not surprisingly, having your children tell you they felt scared when you used your phone, having a loved one injured or killed, or being involved in a crash yourself were among the top ones.
Other findings from the survey:
- Four-in-five respondents said they unsafely used their phone when driving, whether in hand or hands-free.
- Of drivers surveyed, 11% of admitted to driving faster than the speed limit, due to less congestion and traffic during the pandemic.
- About a quarter of drivers surveyed said they felt behaviors like speeding, technology distractions and driver fatigue were occurring more often due to Covid-19.
In 2019, more than 3,000 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, a nearly ten % increase from the number of deaths in 2018, and an additional 424,000 people were injured in distraction-affected crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But those figures for both fatalities and injuries could be even higher due to under reporting, noted Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement, and safety organizations as well as insurance companies and agents.
And there is a steep financial toll as well: Distracted driving crashes cost an estimated $48 billion a year, the safety group said. Earlier this year, it released its 2021 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, which detailed a series of actions to help curb distraction behind the wheel.
April Fools’ Day marked the start of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, “but distracted driving is no joke,” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates, said in a statement. “It remains a leading contributor to motor vehicle crashes, deaths and injuries.”