Almost every state has passed laws around distracted driving in order to combat the increased risk posed by drivers who attempt to use their smartphones and other devices while behind the wheel. New research from The Ohio State University’s Risk Institute has found that road design can help reduce both the frequency and severity of these distracted driving crashes.
“This study helps to highlight that there is a need to improve traffic safety and road management,” said Phil Renaud, executive director of The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. “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.”
According to the study, there was a 35 percent increase in distracted driver fatalities in Ohio and a 23 percent increase in serious injuries between 2003 and 2013. Distracted driving-related crashes accounted for 18 percent of Ohio crash fatalities and 16 percent of serious injuries in Ohio.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 9 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. in 2016 were the result of distracted driving.
The OSU team analyzed 1.4 million police records from the Ohio Department of Transportation. In-vehicle distractions accounted for roughly half of the crashes, and younger drivers were responsible for the highest percentage of crashes (both distracted and otherwise).
These types of crashes were also more severe and up to two-times more likely to be fatal in work zones and other road environments. Urban driving environments had a higher risk of vehicle crashes. These types of crashes were up to 49 percent more severe on a highway system.
Other factors such as the number of lanes or the length of the roadway segment also had an effect on the frequency of distracted driving. Roundabouts actually reduced the severity of distracted driving crashes, as did roads with medians or shoulders with an asphalt pavement. In fact, roundabouts were the single most effective design feature that helped reduce crash rates and severity.
The study was funded by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (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.”