Distracted driving persists, concludes Fresno State study

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Distracted driving persists, concludes Fresno State study

A three-month observational study of distracted driving by Dr. Tamyra Pierce, a media effects researcher at California State University, Fresno, indicates that many motorists still disobey laws banning cell phone use, resulting in documented near-disasters.

Pierce’s study results come on the heels of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s announcement on Tuesday, Jan. 26, of a ban on texting and hand-held cell phones for commercial truck and bus drivers nationwide. If caught, the drivers could face civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

In “An Observational Analysis of Distracted Driving,” Pierce watched traffic on a highway, city roads and the Fresno State campus during peak morning and evening driving times.

One big rig truck driver – distracted by talking without a hands-free device – was observed swerving into the side median, reports Pierce, who last fall participated in the Distracted Driving Summit convened in Washington, D.C., by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

That national summit addressed dangers of text messaging and other driver distractions, which LaHood said claimed more than 6,000 lives and injured a half-million people in the past year.

Pierce is a professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at Fresno State whose specialty includes several studies of the impact of social networking and digital media on behavior.

Her July study, “Texting and Driving: A Dangerous Combination,” concluded that college students willfully break state law by using cell phones to text or check e-mail while driving, although more than two in three said they had experienced adverse consequences of doing so. Her new study shows that “despite having laws in place that restrict people from using cell phones without hands-free devices and also from texting, they are still doing it.”

Of 6,829 drivers observed, “16 percent (1,124) were texting or looking at e-mail, talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device, eating or reading some item,” Pierce reported.

Besides the swerving trucker, one of every three of 582 highway drivers were observed to be distracted while driving. Of highway drivers, Pierce said, “48 were observed veering into other lanes and 17 almost collided with another vehicle by veering into the other lane.”

During campus observation of 2,582 drivers, 18 nearly ran into the back of another car, four ran a stop sign and one almost hit a pedestrian, Pierce said. Seventeen percent of all the drivers observed were engaged in some distracting activity.

In the city street observation of 3,665 drivers, nearly 13 percent were engaged in distracting activity and 26 drivers barely avoided collision with the vehicle in front, while two others weren’t so lucky.

“As was mentioned at Distracted Driving Summit, our ability to multitask while driving is extremely limited and we cannot devote our total attention to doing multiple things while driving,” Pierce said.

“Using cell phones or doing anything else while driving takes our eyes off the road and our hands off the wheel but, most importantly, it takes our mind off the road, which leads to a decrease in our ability to react in the split seconds that it takes for an accident to occur,” she added.

Pierce hopes her study will help illustrate to motorists that this is as serious a problem as drunk driving. She said, “Since it’s obvious laws alone are not doing enough to prevent drivers from using cell phones while driving, we must bring awareness to this issue so that no other family has to lose a loved one.”

For more information, contact Tom Uribes, the Office of University Communications, 559.246.1717 ortomu@csufresno.edu.

The full study is available below.

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An Observational Analysis of Distracted Driving

by Tamyra Pierce, Ph.D. California State University, Fresno

An observational study was conducted to examine the extent of distracted driving on highways, city roads and on a university campus. Drivers were examined during peak driving times (morning and evening) for a period of 3 months (November 2009 – January 2010).

The following shows the breakdown of the results.

City Street

Morning Observation (7:45 a.m. – 8:15 a.m.)

  • 11 % (174 out of 1560) drivers were observed distracted while driving
  • 66 were observed texting or looking at emails
  • 99 were observed talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device
  • 9 were observed eating

Evening Observation (5:45 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.)

  • 14 % (302 out of 2105) drivers were observed distracted while driving
  • 106 were observed texting or looking at emails
  • 162 were observed talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device
  • 34 were observed doing other distracting activities: eating (28) or reading some printed material (6)

Of the drivers who were observed engaged in some distracting activity, 26 drivers almost ran into the back of another car, 1 driver ran a red light and 2 drivers got into a minor fenderbender accident with another car.

Highway

Morning Observation (8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.)

  • 31 % (87 out of 280) drivers were observed distracted while driving
  • 21 were observed texting or looking at emails
  • 56 were observed talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device
  • 10 were observed doing other distracting activities: reading a newspaper (3), putting on make-up (5) or other distracting activities (2 were reaching for items in back seat)

Of the drivers who were observed engaged in some distracting activity, 20 drivers were observed veering into other lanes and of these, 9 almost side-swiped another car.

Evening Observation (5:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.)

  • 35 % ( 106 out of 302) drivers were observed distracted while driving
  • 42 were observed texting or looking at emails
  • 60 were observed talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device
  • 4 were observed engaged in other distracting activities: eating or reading some item (1 newspaper and 1 book)

One of the distracted drivers (talking without a hands-free device) was an 18-wheeler truck driver, who swerved into the side median. Twenty eight drivers were observed veering into other lanes. Eight drivers almost hit another driver due to veering into the other lane.

Campus Road

Morning Observation (9:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.)

  • 13 % (172 out of 1280) drivers were observed distracted while driving
  • 95 were observed texting or looking at emails
  • 68 were observed talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device
  • 9 were observed doing other distracting activities: eating (3), putting on make-up (5) or reading papers (1)

Due to the distractions of the drivers, 1 bicycle rider was almost hit by a car that veered off the road and one driver ran a stop sign.

Evening Observation (4:20 p.m. – 4:50 p.m.)

  • 22 % ( 283 out of 1302) drivers were observed distracted while driving
  • 124 were observed texting or looking at emails
  • 149 were observed talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device
  • 10 were observed engaged in other distracting activities: eating (8), on computer (1) or reading some item (1)

Of those observed engaged in some distracting activity, 18 almost ran into the back of another car, 4 ran a stop sign and 1 almost hit a pedestrian.