Distracted drivers pose safety hazard, according to new UNC Highway Safety Research Center study

Press Release - For immediate use

May 8, 2001

CHAPEL HILL — Each year, an estimated 284,000 distracted drivers are involved in serious crashes, according to a new study by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center.

"We found that 15 percent of drivers in the study were not paying attention and just over half of these (8.3 percent) were distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle," said Dr. Jane Stutts, manager of epidemiological studies at the UNC center and author of the study.

When drivers with unknown attention status were removed from the data, the percentage of distracted drivers rose to 12.9 percent.

Stutts will testify about the study, funded by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday (May 9). She will testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit at 10 a.m.

The study found that drivers were most often distracted by something outside their vehicle (29.4 percent) followed by adjusting a radio or CD player (11.4 percent). Other distractions included talking with other occupants (10.9 percent), adjusting vehicle or climate controls (2.8 percent), eating or drinking (1.7 percent), cell-phone use (1.5 percent) and smoking (0.9 percent).

"Different age groups appear to be distracted by different things," Stutts said.

Drivers under age 20 were especially likely to be distracted by tuning the radio or changing CDs, while young adults (ages 20-29) seemed to be more distracted by other passengers. Drivers over age 65 were more distracted by objects or events happening outside the vehicle.

Most of the distracted drivers were male (63 percent), in part because as a group, males drive more than females and are more likely to be involved in serious crashes.

Researchers used the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Crashworthiness Data System for the study. The CDS examines a sample of approximately 5,000 crashes a year in which at least one vehicle was damaged enough to require towing. Federal investigators collect detailed information about each crash, including examination of the vehicle and crash scene and interviews with drivers and witnesses. The UNC center's study used data from 1995 through 1999 and included 32,303 vehicles.

The UNC Highway Safety Research Center conducts interdisciplinary research aimed at reducing deaths, injuries and related societal costs of roadway crashes in North Carolina and the nation. The center's research addresses crashes involving motor vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians and takes into account the various human, vehicular, roadway and environmental components of these risks.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is an independent, publicly funded charitable research and educational organization founded by the American Automobile Association in 1947. The AAA Foundation's mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes.

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UNC Highway Safety Research Center contact #: (919) 962-2202

UNC News Services contact: Deb Saine, (919) 962-8415

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety contact: Stephanie Faul, (202) 638-5944 (Ext. 4)

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Media Contacts

Caroline Dickson
919.962.5835
dickson@hsrc.unc.edu

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