Working to Change America’s Distracted Driving Statistics in 2018

Highway deaths in the United States increased from 2014 to 2015 and from 2015 to 2016, reversing what had been a general decline since 2007. There are now nearly 4,000 distracted driving-related deaths each year. However, since there is no “blood test” for distracted driving many, many experts contend that distracted driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities are vastly under reported.

Originally published here by Joel Feldman.

More than ten of us are killed and 1,000 are injured every day in the U.S. as a result of distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2015 fatalities attributable to distracted driving increased on a percentage basis faster than those caused by drunk driving, speeding, or failing to wear seat belts. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes that more than 50 percent of serious teen crashes are now believed to be caused by distractions.

Most of us would agree that drunk driving is not socially acceptable, but many don’t view distracted driving the same. Until we change the way we view distracted driving, until we look at the texting and tweeting driver the way we look at the drunk driver, more families will grieve the loss of a loved one as a result of a senseless distracted driving crash.

So, why am I optimistic that we can stem the tide and reduce distracted driving statistics nationwide? Because there are signs that we may have already begun to change the way we look at distracted driving.

Is Distracted Driving Risky or Selfish? Does It Matter?

Since 2010, I have spoken with about 100,000 students and close to 15,000 adults about distracted driving. When asked to describe a video of a distracted driver, adults will use words like “risky,” “dangerous,” or “crazy.” In contrast, students who view the same video will describe that driver as “selfish” and “irresponsible.” It is a rare adult who will describe the driver as being selfish. Adults describe the situation, while students describe the driver. If we want to change the way we view distracted driving, don’t we need to target the driver and the driver’s choice to drive distracted? As one student recently told me, “It’s all about personal accountability.”

Many of us drive distracted and often get away with it – meaning that we haven’t yet been in a crash. So, it should not be surprising when I suggest to drivers that their driving is risky they consistently reply, “But I have never been in a crash.” On the other hand, many of these drivers will concede that texting while driving a car is all about them and could be viewed as selfish. A lack of understanding about the riskiness of driving behaviors is clearly part of the problem, but efforts focusing on the best ways to get that message across have been lacking.

Asking Family, Friends and Co-workers to Drive Without Distraction Will Save Lives

Reducing distracted driving crashes will require each of us to reflect on the way we drive and to make changes if necessary. It will also require us to ask friends, family members, and coworkers to drive safer. Part of our EndDD.org presentations includes providing training to encourage speaking up about distracted driving and teaching skills to make those efforts more productive. This bystander intervention method is modeled after interventions targeting drinking on campuses and anti-bullying initiatives.

Who are Your “Top 5?”

According to an AT&T study, most of us have a majority of our daily smartphone communications with just 5 people. When asked, 85% said they would stop or reduce smartphone communications while driving if asked by one of their “top 5.” Seventy percent would download an app to block smartphone notifications while driving, if asked by one of their “top 5.” So changing our driving culture doesn’t require herculean efforts, just that each of us reach out to those we care about. And if we do, we will make a difference.

Surveys provided before and after presentations measure the frequency that attendees at EndDD.org presentations speak up, their “success” rate, and their likelihood of doing so in the future. In the last year or so of doing talks, I have noticed that a much greater percentage of attendees have indicated they have spoken up and asked drivers to drive safer and have been successful when doing so. I am also hearing from more and more parents when doing distracted driving presentations that their children are asking them to put down their phones while driving.

Businesses are Working Harder to Keep Employees Safe

In 2017, we saw a significant increase in requests for presentations at businesses. But we also saw that businesses wanted to do more than just have a speaker talk with employees or have them sign a pledge. In 2017, we were often requested to do multiple distracted driving presentations a day, or to travel to remote locations so all employees could hear the message.

Businesses availed themselves of EndDD.org online quizzes, pre- and post-presentation surveys, educational materials, and adopted distracted driving policies within their companies. Additionally, many businesses were receptive to our suggestion that they reach out in their communities and schedule school talks. Many employers recognize that it’s not enough to keep their employees safe; they need to also help employees keep their families safe.

Plans for 2018 to Reduce Distracted Driving Statistics

At EndDD.org, we are preparing to release new PSAs, update adult and student presentations, and to work more closely with schools and businesses to measure changes in driving attitudes and behaviors. We will be working with a number of interested parties to craft more effective messages for students and adults. Another goal at EndDD.org for 2018 is to help develop elementary and middle school programs that teach children about distracted driving, how to speak up to keep themselves safe, and how to change Mom and Dad’s driving behaviors. We believe that educating elementary and middle schools students will help drive the cultural change we need to end distracted driving.

We look forward to working with even more schools, communities and businesses to reduce distracted driving statistics in 2018.