Study Finds Daydreaming to be Major Cause of Fatal Car Accidents

Last week, we wrote that April marks an annual crackdown on distracted driving in California. Our laws against distracted driving are among the most comprehensive in the nation, and enforcement of these laws is often just as thorough.

Texting while driving and using a handheld cellphone while driving are illegal, but it is important to remember that these aren't the only sources of distraction behind the wheel. Recently, one insurance company released a report showing that among 65,000 car accident fatalities in recent years, 10 percent were attributed to distracted driving. Further analysis revealed 10 common types of distraction involved in these fatal crashes.

The company, named Erie Insurance, examined 2010-2011 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which is a car accident database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. After analyzing the data, the insurer found that cellphone use accounted for only 12 percent of distracted driving accident fatalities.

Daydreaming or being "lost in thought" was the most common distraction, and accounted for 62 percent of car accident deaths. Other distractions accounted for small percentages of the accidents. These included:

  • Eating/drinking, adjusting settings on the dashboard, or reaching for something in the car (2 percent each)
  • A pet or insect in the car, smoking-related distractions, and adjusting a necessary car component like rearview mirrors or a navigation system (1 percent each)
  • "Rubbernecking" at a person, object or event outside the car (7 percent)
  • Talking to or looking at other passengers in the car (5 percent)

Humans are creatures of habit. Unfortunately, this often causes us to mentally "check out" when we're behind the wheel or to focus our attention on things other than the task at hand. This month, perhaps all California drivers should reexamine their own driving habits to see what their biggest source of distraction is. Laws against distracted driving are a good thing, but we must each make the choice to stay focused and distraction-free each time we get into the driver's seat.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Insurer Analyzes Top 10 Driving Distractions Involved in Fatal Car Crashes," Apr. 4, 2013

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