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A new study of car accidents during the coronavirus pandemic found that a big percentage of them were directly caused by distracted driving. The study revealed that a whopping 27% of all drivers were using their cell phones within 60 seconds of impact. This means that nearly one in every five crashes can be directly attributed to a phone-related distraction.
The mobility analysis firm Zendrive conducted an analysis of 86,000 collisions that took place on U.S. roads in 2020 and found that the country’s record-setting crash rates in the lockdown months usually involved dangerous distracted driving behaviors like texting behind the wheel, which is illegal in 41 states including California. Reportedly, 16.8% of drivers the company studied were using their cell phones in the five seconds immediately prior to impact.
And given that Zendrive’s technology works in the background of a wide range of cell phone apps, from e-taxi software to navigation services that many people use every day, the dangerous phenomenon found cuts across both commercial and civilian driving.
On an aggregate level, some of the trends the study revealed included: of the crashes studied, 17% involved speeding, 57% involved cellphone use, and 75% involved hard braking. On their website, Zendrive wrote: “As the pandemic has led to new levels of technology and phone addiction, has it really led to an increase in crashes despite fewer cars on U.S. roads in 2020? The data has spoken: Collisions per million miles have increased by 63% on U.S. roads compared to January.”
According to GEM Motoring Assist, driving while using a cellphone reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37%. Using social media networks while driving slows down a driver’s reaction time by 37.6%, texting by 37.4%, and a hands free mobile conversation by 26.5%.
Distracted driving long predates the pandemic, of course, but the recent upheaval in travel patterns only underscores a long-standing problem. Zendrive CEO and co-founder Jonathan Matu reiterated the importance to eradicate this behavior: “Distracted driving is a needless crisis, and now as we navigate increased health risks in our day-to-day, we need to prioritize safety on the road.”
However, as Streets Blog USA wrote in an article: “[I]n a country that all but requires a private vehicle and a cell phone for participation in society, enforcement and technology-based solutions may never completely quash our distracted driving problem — and increased fines, especially, risk creating unacceptable inequities for communities of color that already dangerously over-policed.”
According to Bill Schultheiss, vice president and director for sustainable safety at Toole Design, “[P]eople think they can look at their phones [while driving on an interstate] because everything around them is [designed to be] pretty predictable, and designed for them to go fast. And [transportation engineers], as a profession, have taken a lot of those highway design principles to city streets. As people get more and more comfortable being distracted, it’s going to be harder and harder to fix it.”
And while Los Angeles wasn’t among the top cities in the country with most distracted drivers, with 57% of all collisions on U.S. roads influenced by phone distraction behind the wheel, the stakes are high when talking about tackling distracted driving.