“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 80 percent of vehicle crashes and 65 percent of close calls are caused in part by driver distraction.
And some devastating accidents have drawn further attention to the dangers. Last June, five teenage girls were driving to a vacation home in upstate New York when their sport utility vehicle crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer, killing all of them.
The police later learned from phone records that the driver had been typing text messages on her phone just before she swerved out of her lane. Toxicology tests ruled out alcohol and drugs as possible causes. The rise in distraction-related accidents is chilling to auto-safety advocates who typically study air bags and rollovers.
‘If we don’t do something about it, you’re looking at a situation that could rival drunk driving as a risk factor in crashes,’ said Clarence M. Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington.
…The evidence cited most often by safety experts involved 100 cars and 42,000 hours of driving time monitored by in-vehicle cameras and sensors over a one-year period in northern Virginia and the Washington area.
The study [PDF], conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and released in 2006 [PDF], found that ‘secondary task distraction’ was a central factor in auto accidents. The biggest culprit was hand-held wireless devices, along with the act of dialing phone numbers or sending text messages.
‘Texting is really bad, and so is dialing a cellphone, using your BlackBerry or manipulating through an iPod menu,’ said Thomas A. Dingus, one of the principal investigators in the study.
But, Mr. Dingus added, any activity that takes a driver’s eyes off the road for even a couple of seconds can cause a crash.”
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