Archive for the ‘car accidents’ Tag

The Safest & Deadliest States For Car Accidents

We’ve spilled a lot of ink discussing the most congested cities for drivers. But what about the most dangerous states for auto-related deaths?

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute asked themselves the same question — and unlike us, they decided to find an answer.

To do that, they looked at traffic fatality stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for calendar year 2013 (the most recent year available). And just to make things interesting, Sivak and Schoettle did a little fancy math to see how highway fatalities compared to deaths as a whole.

Their findings were eye-opening.

For example, you might expect that states with high levels of traffic congestion would see a greater percentage of the population killed in auto accidents. But in fact, the opposite seems true. In some of the most crowded areas of the U.S. — namely, the American northeast and along the Pacific coast — traffic fatality rates are low. The places where folks are least likely to die in auto accidents include:

1. Washington, D.C., with an auto fatality rate of 3.1 deaths per 100,000 residents

2. Massachusetts (4.9 deaths)

3. & 4. New Jersey and New York (tied at 6.1 deaths)

5. Rhode Island (6.2 deaths)

6. Washington state (6.3 deaths)

7. Alaska (6.9 deaths)

You could counter by saying that because the populations in some of those areas are so huge, the ratios are unfairly skewed — and in cases like New York and New Jersey, you might have a point. But that surely doesn’t explain the presence of Alaska and Rhode Island.

That argument also doesn’t explain why many of those same spots also earned high marks when Sivak and Schoettle compared roadway fatalities to deaths from other causes:

1. Washington, D.C., where auto fatalities make up just 0.4 percent of deaths as a whole.

2. Massachusetts (0.6 percent)

3. Rhode Island (0.7 percent)

4. & 5. New Jersey and New York (tied at 0.8 percent)

Other states with low proportions of auto fatalities compared to overall deaths included Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin.

At the other end of Sivak and Schoettle’s scale, we find states in the Midwest and the South. Those with the highest fatality rates included:

1. Montana, with 22.6 deaths per 100,000 people

2. & 3. Mississippi and North Dakota (tied at 20.5 deaths)

To add insult to injury — literally — those same three states had some of the highest proportions of auto-related fatalities compared to deaths as a whole:

1. & 2. Montana and North Dakota, where road deaths account for 2.4 percent of all fatalities

3. Mississippi (2.0 percent)

The good news is, traffic fatalities have been on the decline for some time, and today, the number of roadway deaths pales in comparison to the throngs of people killed by heart disease, cancer, lung disease, stroke, and/or Alzheimer’s. Although 2015 may see something of a spike in auto-related fatalities, many analysts agree that the downward trend will continue over time. Once autonomous safety features and vehicle-to-vehicle communications become commonplace, rates will likely drop even further.

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Talking on a cellphone while driving is risky. But simpler distractions can also cause harm.

Perhaps you’ve heard the claim that talking on the phone while driving is as risky as driving drunk. Indeed, a driving simulator study found “profound” impairments in both cellphone chatters and in people with a blood alcohol level of 0.08.

But here’s the surprising thing: It doesn’t seem to make a difference whether drivers are using hand-held phones or hands-free systems. What matters is simply that they are talking with someone outside the car.

Everyone understands the risk of taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the steering wheel, says David Teater, senior director of transportation strategic initiatives for the National Safety Council. But most people don’t appreciate the demands of driving on the parts of your brain involved in attention, planning and language, Teater says. Talking on the phone uses some of the same brain space that driving does. So if you’re trying to do both, at least one of them is going to suffer.

It’s a problem of dual tasks, says David Strayer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Utah. Some dual tasks are no problem, such as walking and chewing gum at the same time. Others are trickier, such as patting your head and rubbing your belly.

A recent study demonstrates that driving while conversing falls squarely in that tricky category. Researchers measured reaction times in young adult drivers exposed to a variety of traffic situations in a driving simulator. Talking on a hand-held cellphone slowed drivers’ reactions to seeing a pedestrian enter a crosswalk by 40 percent compared with no conversation. The effect was identical for drivers who talked on a hands-free phone.

How do other distractions compare? Here’s the research on some common car activities (besides driving):

Is talking on the phone more distracting than listening to an audiobook?

A small 2008 study showed that when people listened to an audiobook (in this case, “Dracula”), their performance was the same as when they drove without distraction. But when they carried on a phone conversation with one of the researchers (about hobbies and weekend activities), their performance worsened.

How distracting is radio?

Strayer partnered with the American Automobile Association to try to measure the relative strength of various cognitive distractions on driving. Study subjects were tested in a driving simulator or a real car while listening to the radio or a book on tape. On a scale of 1 (no distraction) to 5, radio measured 1.2 and the audiobook measured 1.75. The distraction that rated a 5 was to have drivers try to solve math problems and remember a series of words.

Is talking on the phone more distracting than talking to a passenger?

The cognitive workload for the driver is the same, according to Strayer. In his test, conversing with a passenger rated a 2.3 on the 1-to-5 scale; talking on a hand-held phone, a 2.4; and a hands-free phone, a 2.3. However, having another person in the car generally results in safer driving, because there’s often an extra set of eyes on the road. Also, passengers tend to stop talking when the demands of driving increase, Strayer says. “So passenger and cell conversations have different crash risks because the passenger helps out.”

Note: Teen passengers don’t have the same helpful effect with teen drivers.

Are there apps for that?

There are apps that when enabled — or when you’re traveling over, say, 10 mph — automatically answer calls (and texts) and apps that will read your text messages or e-mails aloud to you. One recent study found that listening to (but not answering) a ringing phone while driving was a distraction.

Despite the data, there’s no indication that people are giving up their phone conversations. There are probably plenty of reasons for that, but it’s hard to tackle a lack of self-awareness — or worse, hubris. “People notice others driving erratically and talking on their phones, but they don’t notice themselves making similar driver errors,” Strayer says.

In the past, people would brag about being good drivers even when drunk, Teater says. The same thing is happening now with cellphones. Teater’s work was spurred by the death of his 12-year-old son in a cellphone-related car accident. “You never think it will happen to you — until it does,” he says.

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Distracted Driving Dangers


Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety. These types of distractions include:

Using a cell phone or smartphone
Eating and drinking
Talking to passengers
Reading, including maps
Using a navigation system
Watching a video
Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
But, because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.

The best way to end distracted driving is to educate all Americans about the danger it poses. On this page, you’ll find facts and statistics that are powerfully persuasive. If you don’t already think distracted driving is a safety problem, please take a moment to learn more. And, as with everything on, please share these facts with others. Together, we can help save lives.

Got questions? Visit our FAQ! Want even more information? Look at sample research reports.

Key Facts and Statistics

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, compared to 416,000 injured in 2010.

10% of injury crashes in 2011 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.

As of December 2012, 171.3 billion text messages were sent in the US (includes PR, the Territories, and Guam) every month. (CTIA)

11% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.

For drivers 15-19 years old involved in fatal crashes, 21 percent of the distracted drivers were distracted by the use of cell phones (NHTSA)
At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010. (NOPUS)

Engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times. (VTTI)
Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent-at 55 mph-of driving the length of an entire football field, blind. (VTTI)

Headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use. (VTTI)

A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive. 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving. (UMTRI)

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