Ohio State Researchers: Road Design Impacts Distracted Driving Crash Frequency

November 21, 2018

A new study from Ohio State University’s Risk Institute reveals road design modifications can reduce the frequency and severity of distracted driving crashes.

According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), which funded the Risk Institute’s study, researchers Zhenhua Chen and Youngbin Lym, assistant professors in city and regional planning at Ohio State, found that even the length of a roadway segment or number of lanes had an impact on the frequency of distracted driving crashes.

On the other hand, roundabouts had a significant effect on reducing the severity of distracted driving-related crashes. Other road environments that have a median or a shoulder with an asphalt pavement were also found to have fewer distracted driving crashes.

The researchers found a 35 percent increase in distracted driver fatalities in Ohio and a 23 percent increase in serious injuries for the period 2003-2013. Additionally, distracted driving crashes were more severe in some road environments, such as work zones where they were up to two times more likely to be fatal.

Urbanized areas such as Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati had much higher risk in vehicle crashes than other regions in Ohio, the study shows

“This study helps to highlight that there is a need to improve traffic safety and road management,” Phil Renaud, executive director of The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, said in a media release. “It provides new evidence that supports taking steps to improve traffic signs and safety regulations for distracted driving in specific areas. There are things we can do on a local, city level to lower crash frequencies and severities.”

Key findings also include:

  • Distracted driving-related crashes account for approximately 18 percent of overall Ohio crash fatalities and 16 percent of Ohio serious injuries.
  • Distracted driving-related crashes are up to 49 percent more severe when they occur on a highway system.
  • The risk of vehicle crashes due to distracted driving is found to be highest in the Columbus area.
  • Distracted driving crashes are 5-10 times more likely to be fatal than severe in a rear end and or angle crash.
  • Roundabouts were found to be the single most effective road design in reducing the rate of crashes and crash severity. Overall, within the data (2013-2017) there were no fatal crashes within roundabouts.

The increase in distracted driving-related crashes in Ohio has become a major concern to various stakeholders, including insurance companies, transportation planners and policymaker, according to PCI.

“Those of us in the insurance industry hear far too many stories of how families are devastated because someone was texting behind the wheel,” said Bob Passmore, assistant vice president for PCI. “This research confirms some of the trends we have seen in auto insurance claims. Congested, urban roadways, infrastructure challenges along with the ubiquitous use of electronic devices combine to create hazardous driving conditions. As we have seen with other motor safety issues such as seatbelt use and drunk driving, there is no single answer to addressing the problem of distracted driving. It takes a coordinated strategy combining the enactment of laws, strong enforcement, drivers taking personal responsibility to avoid distractions and improvements in transportation infrastructure design.”

Source: PCI

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