Distracted Driving Stems From More Than Cell Phone Use, Insurers Say

December 16, 2011

Using a cell phone while driving is not the only distraction leading to automobile crashes today, says a group of insurance carriers.

While the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) call for a national ban on cell phone use while driving brings needed attention to the issue, the discussion should focus on how to reduce all forms of distracted driving, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).

“Cell phone usage is only one of many bad habits that are distracting American drivers,” said Robert Passmore, senior director of personal lines for PCI . “Distracted driving is a serious problem and in our increasingly mobile world, it is becoming the norm. 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.”

Passmore says the issue of distracted driving should be addressed on multiple fronts including laws, enforcement, public education, but mostly the driver’s personal responsibility.

According to the Insurance Information for Highway Safety (IIHS), 35 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving and half of these bans were enacted in 2010. Ten states have enacted hands-free laws restricting the use of hand-held cell phones. Beginner drivers are restricted from using cell phones in 30 states.

A new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll found that a large majority of adult drivers in the United States admit to being dangerously distracted while behind the wheel. Specifically 86 percent of adults admitted to eating/drinking while driving, 59 percent talk on a non-hands-free cell phone, 41 percent set or adjust their GPS device, and 37 percent text. Additionally, a quarter of respondents said they have driven after having two or more drinks, and 44 percent said they’ve felt sleepy while driving, “sometimes even momentarily dozing off.” Smaller percentages (7 percent and 12 percent, respectively) said they drive this way “sometimes or often.”

“This poll makes it clear that cell phones are not our only distraction,” said Passmore. “However, the pervasive use of cell phones and other devices while driving has changed how we operate in our cars.”

In today’s fast paced world, cars have become high speed mobile offices, Passmore added. Distracted driving of all kinds – including operating navigation systems, eating and drinking as well as grooming – can all serve as distractions that compromise safe driving.

“As this national debate continues in the media and around dinner tables we need to go back to the basics, change expectations while driving and reject the pressures to do anything else while operating a car,” Passmore said.

PCI is composed of more than 1,000 member insurance companies that write over $180 billion in annual premium. Member companies write 44.3 percent of the U.S. automobile insurance market.

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