Distracted Driving Habit Is Proving Tough for Americans to Break

March 28, 2019

Nearly eight in 10 consumers talk on the phone while driving and more than 30 percent admit to having been in a near-miss crash because they were distracted.

Also, although distracted driving poses potential liability risks for companies, many expect employees to remain connected and do little to discourage such behaviors behind the wheel

Travelers Companies announced these and other results of its 2019 Travelers Risk Index, which surveyed more than 2,000 consumers and executives about distracted driving and the reasons behind it.

The Travelers Risk Index identified common distractions when behind the wheel, including:

  • Typing a text or email (44 percent).
  • Using social media (23 percent).
  • Recording videos or taking photos (22 percent).
  • Shopping online (15 percent).

“It’s startling to see that drivers continue to engage in potentially life-threatening habits,” said Chris Hayes, second vice president of Transportation, Risk Control at Travelers. “Whether driving for work or on personal time, many drivers overlook risks that make our roads more dangerous for all of us.”

Some drivers say it would be difficult to stop such behaviors. Thirteen percent of respondents say they would find it very difficult to stop reading texts or emails while driving, and 11 percent say it would be difficult to stop typing texts or emails while driving. In addition, five percent of respondents say they would find it very difficult to stop shopping online while driving.

Nineteen percent say they would still drive distracted even if it was against the law.

(Recent research out of the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University and published in the American Journal of Public Health — Texting-While-Driving Bans and Motor Vehicle Crash–Related Emergency Department Visits in 16 US States: 2007–2014— suggests that laws against texting may make a difference. The study found that crash-related emergency room visits fell four percent on average from 2007 to 2014 in states that prohibit texting while driving. Crash-related injuries dropped eight percent in states that placed primary bans on texting while driving, the study found.)

Although many smartphones have settings to help drivers stay focused, most drivers do not use these features. Consistent with last year’s index from the insurer, only 12 percent of consumers set their phones to Do Not Disturb while driving. In fact, of those respondents who do not activate the Do Not Disturb feature, 41 percent actively choose not to turn it on, while others simply forget to turn it on or find it inconvenient to do so (35 percent), according to the survey.

Workplace Accountability

The 2019 index also suggests that many workplaces do not consider the full consequences of distracted driving. According to the National Safety Council, the average economic cost of a crash is more than $1 million per death and more than $78,000 per nonfatal disabling injury. However, 12 percent of executives surveyed do not worry about the liability associated with a crash caused by a distracted employee, and most (74 percent) do not consider distracted driving to be of great concern.

The connected culture and mounting workplace expectations may be contributing to distracted driving. While most businesses report being at least somewhat concerned about employees’ use of mobile devices on the road, an overwhelming majority (87 percent) of executives expect workers to be sometimes or frequently reachable outside of the office. Employees feel this pressure, as 20 percent of respondents who admit to replying to work-related messages while driving say they do so because they worry about upsetting their boss. Further, nearly half of those same respondents say they always need to be available or do not want to miss a work-related emergency. Lastly, 17 percent say drive time is when they get a lot of work done.

“The pressure to always be online and connected can be deadly,” added Hayes. “Even though distraction-related crashes occur frequently, some companies continue to expect constant connectivity without considering what’s at stake.”

According to Travelers, three out of four workplaces have implemented distracted driving policies. However, just 18 percent of businesses advise employees to set their phones to Do Not Disturb before driving, and only 40 percent report knowing of an employee who was disciplined for not complying with company policy.

Passive Passengers

According to the survey, having conversations about driving behavior can make a difference. Sixteen percent of consumers say they rarely or never speak up while in a car with a distracted driver, yet more than half (54 percent) say they would likely cease distracted driving behaviors if they were asked to do so.

Some conversations about distracted driving are already happening: Two-thirds of parents have spoken to their children about distracted driving, and the same amount of companies say they have an employee education program about the dangers of distracted driving and how to avoid it.

About the Travelers survey: Hart Research conducted a national online survey of 1,000 consumers, ages 18 to 69, in March 2019. Separately, Hart surveyed 1,050 executives from businesses of all sizes. Both surveys were commissioned by Travelers.

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