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Most-used apps while driving, hands-free legislation results revealed; IIHS calls for safe advertising

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The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) released a report Thursday that offers recommendations to address a growing concern when it comes to road safety — distracted driving caused by smartphone use.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) looked at the issue from a different angle Wednesday in a piece written about the depiction of speeding in vehicle advertisements and how they effect driver’s actions on the road.

The report suggests states implement a multi-faceted approach that includes the adoption of strong and clear laws, which CMT says its research confirms has a positive impact on distraction rates.

As part of a recent Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for advanced impaired driving prevention technologies, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that distracted driving caused 12,405 fatalities in 2021 and a societal cost of $158 billion.

The report details how distracted driving has fallen in Ohio, Alabama, Michigan, and Missouri since hands-free laws were implemented. During the first three months following the enactment of these laws, distraction declined an average of 6.6%, according to the report.

Since enforcement of Ohio’s hands-free law began in October, CMT noted an 8.1% decrease in driver distraction. CMT estimates it has so far prevented 3,060 crashes, 1,700 injuries, and 14 fatalities.

In the first month following the enactment of Michigan’s hands-free law, there was a 12% reduction in distraction, according to CMT. By the second month of the law, the rate of distracted driving declined an additional 2 percentage points to 14%.

By the third month of Missouri’s hands-free law, distraction was 4.2% lower, and by the sixth month, it decreased by 7.8%, according to the report.

The Alabama law won’t be enforced until June.

CMT also found that incentive-based programs such as “Safest Driver,” powered by CMT technology, motivate drivers to avoid risky driving behaviors.

The report also recommends strong legislation coupled with equitable enforcement and data collection as well as public education and outreach which has resulted in increased seat belt use and decreased alcohol-impaired driving.

It should become habitual to turn off or place your phone out of reach, use the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” to notify others when you’re behind the wheel, have a passenger make or take a call, or pull over when you need to connect, according to the report.

According to survey results shared in the report, apps drivers are most likely to be distracted by include Instagram (24%), camera and WhatsApp (combined 20%), YouTube (19%), and phone (15%).

Usage was most prevalent by drivers ages 30-44:

    • Instagram, 28%
    • WhatsApp, 26%
    • Camera, 24%
    • Facebook, 20%
    • Facebook Messenger, 19%
    • Gmail, Google Chrome, Adobe Acrobat Reader, YouTube, and Afterpay – combined usage by nearly 20% of drivers.

“Distracted driving is incredibly dangerous, yet commonplace,” said Pam Shadel Fischer, GHSA external engagement senior director, in a news release. “Too many of our loved ones, friends, and neighbors have died or been injured because a motorist didn’t focus on the complex task of driving.

“The good news is that we know what works — a comprehensive approach that leverages strong state laws, equitable enforcement, robust data collection, public engagement, vehicle technology, and more. We have to double down on all these strategies to eliminate distraction and make our roads safer for everyone using them.”

CMT has found that 34% of crashes involve a driver using their phone one minute before a crash, according to the report.

“Working alongside GHSA and its members, CMT is helping analyze strategies that reduce crash risks,” said Ryan McMahon, executive sponsor of CMT’s Road Safety Board, in the release. “Reports like these emphasize the progress that can be gained by combining new technology with historical insights to enhance road safety for everyone.”

In 2016, Boston, Seattle, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and the state of Oklahoma partnered with CMT to run incentivized safe driving programs. The programs work by analyzing driver behaviors and encouraging safer driving to reduce distracted driving and other risks.

By 2019, the riskiest drivers, those in the bottom 25%, participating in Boston’s Safest Driver program had decreased distracted driving by 48%, speeding by 38%, and hard braking by 57%, according to the report. This resulted in a 12% reduction in crashes and injuries.

Applying NHTSA’s crash cost estimates to the 12,000 drivers that participated in L.A.’s Safest Driver program shows that it prevented $2.1 million in economic damages and resulted in 745 fewer crashes and two lives saved, the report says.

IIHS said Wednesday more than 300,000 people are injured and more than 12,000 die in speed-related car crashes every year in the U.S.

Crashes that cause those injuries and deaths occur at all hours, on all types of roads, and involve all types of drivers, IIHS said.

“The simple fact is, no matter how skilled the driver, speed affects both the likelihood of a crash and the severity of crash injuries,” wrote Chuck Farmer, IIHS Research and Statistical Service vice president. “High speeds leave a driver less time to react, less room to brake, and less chance of surviving the force of a potential crash. Why are we promoting car sales by glorifying speed?”

An IIHS analysis of TV advertising in 1998 found that performance (speed, power, and maneuverability) was a theme in half of all automobile ads. Performance was the primary theme in 17% of the ads. A more recent analysis by Consumer Reports presented a similar result. Performance was a theme in 40% of automobile ads in 2017.

“Perhaps these ads are just harmless fun,” Farmer wrote. “One might suppose that the viewer is aware enough to separate fantasy from reality, and we all know that speeding is dangerous. We’re all above-average drivers. We would never try to imitate the extreme stunt driving seen in the ads. But might we be tempted to push the boundaries of speed just a bit?”

A few years ago, IIHS says there was an upsurge in risky driving behavior including speeding, driving after drinking, and failing to wear seat belts. One theory about the increased behaviors is that it was due to the isolation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the behavior has continued, along with severe crashes, according to IIHS.

Many U.S. cities have lately seen a sizeable increase in pedestrian deaths and other vulnerable road users. Their response has been adding traffic-calming strategies such as lane narrowing, speed humps, and lower speed limits, but ads encouraging drivers to go fast run counter to these efforts, Farmer wrote.

Farmer notes that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces truth-in-advertising laws but the laws don’t include any language about the promotion of unsafe driving. He provided examples of broadcasters formulating their own standards:

    • Viacom CBS Advertising Standards prohibit “risky behavior portrayed positively,” with no definition of risky behavior.
    • ABC standards “go a bit further,” he said, stating that “safe and lawful driving practices should be depicted at all times,” and point to wearing seat belts as well as avoiding distractions, but there is no mention of speed.
    • NBC Universal requires that advertisers “portray compliance with standard safety precautions.” Seat belts are mentioned, but not speed, Farmer wrote.

“Of course, the automakers themselves bear responsibility for their advertising content,” Farmer wrote. “Some choose to glorify speed to sell vehicles, even as they also tout the safety of their products and conduct safe-driving campaigns. Most vehicle manufacturers include a commitment to safety as part of their mission.

“When it comes to vehicle design and the adoption of safety technology, they have followed through. Year after year, these companies compete for IIHS Top Safety Pick awards, continually making improvements to their vehicles as we strengthen the criteria for the accolades. Many automakers also sponsor programs to encourage safe driving for teens.”

IIHS calls on advertisers to treat unsafe speed “the same way they would treat drunk driving or failure to use a seat belt — behaviors they wouldn’t think of showing in a positive light,” Farmer wrote.

“The thrill of moving at extreme speeds should be confined to amusement parks and virtual reality games. Today’s vehicles are more reliable, more efficient, more comfortable, and safer than ever before. Shouldn’t that be enough of a selling point?”


Featured image provided by IIHS

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