The number of cyclists killed by distracted drivers in the United States rose 30 per cent from 56 to 73 from 2005 to 2010, according to a major research project.
The national number of pedestrians struck and killed by distracted drivers went up from 344 to 500 – a rise of nearly 50 per cent, the University of Nebraska Medical Center report said.
At the same time, deaths in motor vehicle crashes were declining.
“We’re constantly exposed to distracted drivers. I don’t think there’s a day that I don’t see someone driving and using their cell phone, a lot of times they’re texting,” said Associate Professor Fernando Wilson, of the UNMC College of Public Health. “It’s something that’s pervasive in society.
“It’s not like seat belt usage and securing your child into a safety seat. If you don’t do these things, which now are the social norm, it’s viewed negatively. The laws are stricter. With cell phones, we don’t have that social stigma. Not to mention that distracted driving is more difficult to enforce than other driving safety laws.”
The report, published in the November-December issue of Public Health Reports, documents trends and characteristics of pedestrians, bicyclists, and other victim deaths caused by distracted drivers on US public roads. The report does not document injuries.
Dr. Wilson believes statistics related to distracted driving may not be fully reported because of the difficulty police faced proving distracted driving. That, in turn, made it difficult to develop policies to curb distracted driving.
“The evidence on policies curbing distracted driving is very mixed and some research suggests policies are just not working — that we’re not really making a dent on distracted driving,” he said. “If that’s the case, we need to think about marked crosswalks, bike paths — the environment that tries to create a separation between pedestrians and bicyclists with traffic.”
Dr. Wilson said the study also found that 65 percent of pedestrian victims of distracted driving crashes were male and between the ages of 25 and 64 years old and Caucasian. The victims also were more likely to be struck outside of a marked crosswalk and be in a city.
“People have to be aware that this problem is not going away anytime soon,” Dr. Wilson said. “So when you’re crossing the street or cycling, you need to be cognizant about this new threat to roadway safety.”
UNMC faculty members, Jim Stimpson, PhD, and Robert Muelleman, MD, also collaborated on the study.
Researchers used data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System on crashes on public roads in the US. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identifies distracted driving based on whether police investigators determined that a driver had been using a technological device, onboard navigation system, computer, fax machine, two-way radio, head-up display, or had been engaged in inattentive or careless activities.
The study was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Public Health Law Research program.
A study in Texas drivers doing an actual driving test were twice as slow to react as non-texting drivers and more likely to miss a flashing light.
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