Travelers Cos. released its annual survey on the leading causes of distracted driving in the face of an alarming reality: more than 46,000 people die in preventable traffic crashes in the United States in 2022.
That’s up 9% from 2020, according to the National Safety Council, when the pandemic tightened its grip.
Chris Hayes, assistant vice president of workers compensation and transportation, risk control at the property-casualty insurance giant, said debate abounds about the role played by the pandemic in the rise in traffic fatalities and why distracted driving is increasing.
One theory gaining traction is that in the early days of the pandemic roadways were relatively deserted as people worked at home. That gave drivers the freedom to take more chances with their vehicles — driving faster and while doing so, using their cell phones for everything from checking Facebook to taking photos and even shopping, Hayes said.
“But a lot of those driving behaviors really haven’t changed,” Hayes said.
The Travelers survey — used to compile the Travelers Risk Index — found that 70% of drivers believe that distracted driving is more of a problem now than it was just a few years ago.
While the cell phone may be the biggest culprit in distracted driving, Hayes said even hands-free devices distract because the motor vehicle operator does not have full attention on the road.
The index, now in its fifth year, was compiled through a national online survey in January of 1,000 consumers in January, ages 18 to 69, about their perceptions and behavior pertaining to distracted driving. Separately, 1,116 executives from businesses of all sizes were surveyed. Both surveys were commissioned by Travelers and conducted by Hart Research.
The national survey found these causes of distraction behind the wheel:
1. Technology Those responding to the survey said electronic devices were among the leading causes of distraction. Drivers admitted these behaviors while behind the wheel:
• 80% made or received calls.
• 57% used handheld devices.
• 28% posted social media updates.
• 27% took photos or videos.
2. State of Mind The survey found:
• 75% of drivers said they experienced stress or intense emotions.
• 62% admitted to feeling drowsy.
3. Employer expectations • 86% of business managers expect employees to respond to work-related communications at least sometimes while outside the office during work hours.
4. Juggling work and driving • 30% of business executives said their employees has been involved in crashes while working because they were driving distracted.
• 37% of workers said they have taken work-related calls, texts or emails while driving. When asked why, 44% said there might be a work-related emergency, while 43% said they felt they always needed to be available.
5. A reason to change behavior The survey found:
• 84% would stop using their phone if a passenger asked.
• 83% would not use their phone if there was a financial reward.
• 82% would put down the phone if there was an insurance discount.
• 81% would reconsider using the phone if there were increased monetary fines.
Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.