An enlightening yet dis- turbing study from the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments puts into clear focus the scope of a leading menace on Mahoning Valley roadways: distracted driving.
Results from the study released recently by the transportation, planning and economic development consortium illuminate the frequency of distractive driving, the most common distractions and the gender and age brackets of those motorists most prone to such dangerous behavior in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
The findings will prove valuable to transportation-safety agencies in building more effective awareness campaigns. Legislators can use them in crafting more rigid public policy and laws on distracted driving. Most importantly, drivers of all ages and genders in the Mahoning Valley can grasp tightly onto them as motivators to refrain from such reckless habits each and every time they take the wheel.
Eastgate COG merits credit for its exhaustive undertaking. In its research, the council found that no standard methodology had been used to collect data on distracted driving. It therefore constructed its own, dispatching monitors to eight high-traffic locations in the Valley last fall to physically view and record each instance of clearly observable distracted driving.
Some of the more common targeted distractions included using a cellphone or texting, eating and drinking, focusing too heavily on passengers, personal grooming and reading. Among its findings:
Of the 6,476 drivers observed, 717, or 11 percent, were distracted in some fashion.
Drivers from 26 to 40 years old accounted for the highest percentage of distracted drivers at 40 percent.
Women drivers were slightly more prone to distracted driving (12 percent) than men (10 percent).
Those findings offer reason for both comfort and concern. Surprisingly, teen drivers accounted for a relatively low segment of total distracted driving in the sample. That may indicate that aggressive advertising and awareness campaigns against texting while driving targeted squarely at youthful motorists may be having an impact. In addition, unlike any other age group in Ohio, teen drivers may recognize that Ohio law singles them out for prosecution for texting while driving as a primary offense, meaning they can be stopped for committing no other offense than texting.
On the down side, the results indicate that same message has not yet adequately reached more experienced drivers. A full 79 percent of those observed to having been distracted were between and 26 and 60 years old.
Drivers 61 and over represented the smallest percentage of distracted driving at 3 percent. That may well result from that demographic group’s reputation as being less reliant on electronic devices every second of every minute of every day. This is one clear case in which younger drivers should respect their elders as the costs and consequences of distracted driving are huge.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,154 people were killed and an estimated 424,000 injured in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2013.
The preponderance of cellphone use and texting as distractions should also give state legislators pause to consider updating the state’s relatively weak ban on texting while driving.
Currently, 45 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging for all drivers. Ohio is one of only five states that still lacks primary enforcement of such bans for all drivers.
To bring Ohio into line with the nation, state Rep. Michael Sheehy, D-Oregon, in May 2015 introduced an all-inclusive ban via House Bill 88. That bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, unfortunately has languished in committee the past 14 months. At the very least, the proposal merits robust discussion and debate.
Meatier laws and highly visible awareness campaigns have succeeded over the years in reducing the highway carnage attributed to operating a vehicle impaired or driving without wearing seatbelts.
The treasure trove of data collected by COG and more that will result in follow-up studies it plans this summer can work toward doing the same for distracted driving.