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Distracted Driving in the United States and Europe

Photo: Man using a cell phone while driving

A recent CDC study compared the percentage of distracted drivers in the United States and seven European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Overall, the study found that a higher percentage of U.S. drivers talked on the phone and read or sent emails or texts while driving than drivers in several other European countries.

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Distracted Driving

Each day in the United States, more than 9 people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.1 Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving. Distracted driving can increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash.

There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road;
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel; and
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving.2

Distracted driving activities include things like using a cell phone, texting, and eating. Using in-vehicle technologies (such as navigation systems) can also be sources of distraction. While any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction.2

How big is the problem?

  • In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 416,000 people injured in 2010.1
  • In 2010, nearly one in five crashes (18%) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.1
  • In June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the US, up nearly 50% from June 2009.1

CDC Distracted Driving Study

A CDC study analyzed 2011 data on distracted driving, including talking on a cell phone or reading or sending texts or emails behind the wheel. The researchers compared the prevalence of talking on a cell phone or texting or emailing while driving in the United States and seven European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Key findings included the following:

Talking on a cell phone while driving

  • 69% of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed.
  • In Europe, this percentage ranged from 21% in the United Kingdom to 59% in Portugal.

Texting or emailing while driving

  • 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported that they had read or sent text messages or email messages while driving at least once within the 30 days before they were surveyed.
  • In Europe, this percentage ranged from 15% in Spain to 31% in Portugal.3

What are the risk factors?

  • Some activities—such as texting—take the driver’s attention away from driving more frequently and for longer periods than other distractions.4
  • Younger, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 may be at increased risk; they have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.4
  • Texting while driving is linked with drinking and driving or riding with someone who has been drinking among high school students in the United States, according to a CDC study that analyzed self-report data from the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Students who reported engaging in risky driving behaviors said that they did so at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey.5 Key findings from the study revealed that:
    • Nearly half of all U.S. high school students aged 16 years or older text or email while driving.
    • Students who text while driving are nearly twice as likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking and five times as likely to drink and drive than students who don’t text while driving.
    • Students who frequently text while driving are more likely to ride with a drinking driver or drink and drive than students who text while driving less frequently.5

What is being done?

  • Many states are enacting laws—such as banning texting while driving, or using graduated driver licensing systems for teen drivers—to help raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and to keep it from occurring. However, the effectiveness of cell phone and texting laws on decreasing distracted driving-related crashes requires further study.
  • On September 30, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on government business or with government equipment.6
  • On October 27, 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enacted a ban that prohibits commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving.7

References

  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Facts and Statistics. Available from http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/facts-and-statistics.html.  Accessed May 23, 2013
  2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, September 2010. Publication no. DOT-HS-811-379. Available from http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/index.html. Accessed May 23, 2013.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mobile Device Use While Driving — United States and Seven European Countries, 2011. MMWR 2013 / 62(10);177-182. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6210a1.htm?s_cid=mm6210a1_w
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Policy Statement and Compiled Facts on Distracted Driving. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2011. Available from: http://www.nhtsa.gov/. Accessed May 23, 2013.
  5. Olsen EO, Shults RA, Eaton DK. Texting while driving and other risky motor vehicle behaviors among US high school students. Pediatrics. 2013;131(6):e1708-e1715. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/05/08/peds.2012-3462.abstract
  6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Regulations. Available from: http://www.distraction.gov/content/dot-action/regulations.html. Accessed May 23, 2013.
  7. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Limiting the Use of Wireless Communication Devices. Washington DC: US Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 2011. Available from: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/. Accessed May 23, 2013.
 
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