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Alcohol has long been considered one of the most dangerous causes of impairment to the fitness of drivers, but distractions by technology, including smartphones and satellite navigation systems, are now proving to be a greater risk. Some 74 percent of drivers admit to being distracted while driving.
A new study by the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) shows that the risk of an accident drastically increases when drivers switch attention from road traffic to the technology within their reach. The study highlights a statistical correlation between higher accident rates and the use of information, communication and entertainment functions on offer within cars.
For example, 60 percent of drivers who have had accidents in the past three years report using their mobile phone while driving. Just 37 percent of drivers who did not have an accident reported doing so.
"This is not really a surprise," says Jochen Haug, Head of Claims at Allianz Germany. "The more diverse the technology and the more complex its operation, the more it will distract the driver from monitoring the traffic."
According to experts, every tenth traffic accident with fatalities is due to driver distraction. In 2016, more than 3,200 people died on German roads – 256 of them because one of the accident victims was drunk. Significantly more people (about 350) were killed by accidents involving distractions.
Until the 1970s, it was acceptable for a driver to have several glasses of wine and still drive, notes Haug. More than 20,000 people died on the roads in 1970 and the government responded by introducing speed limits on country roads and a maximum blood alcohol level of 0.8 in 1971. “Attitudes to alcohol changed: It is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive. We need to adopt the same attitude when it comes to smartphone use behind the wheel of a moving vehicle,” Haug says. “Our study is clear, using a smartphone while driving puts human lives at risk."
According to the survey, almost every second driver commits cellphone-related violations while driving. Three-quarters of the survey respondents admitted to being regularly distracted by built-in technology in the vehicle, while 39 percent said they manually operated the navigation system while driving.
One in four drivers said they read text messages while driving and 15 percent said they responded to messages. It was more prevalent in drivers aged up to 24 years: up to 27 percent read messages and 23 percent responded while driving.
The results correspond to international findings. A 2015 report of 1,211 drivers in the United States found that nearly 60 percent of respondents had read or written a cellphone message while driving, within the prior month. A strong correlation was found between the results and crash rates.
Furthermore, motor vehicle collisions are responsible for nearly a quarter of all deaths among teens and young adults (aged 15-24 years) in the U.S. More than a third (36 percent) of all distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes were aged 15-29, according to 2015 statistics from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
AZT has long campaigned for distraction to be included as a cause in official accident statistics and for road traffic regulations to reflect the current state of communication techniques. The German government recently extended the definition of smartphones to include tablets and similar devices.
Allianz is also advocating additional measures, such as disabling navigation entry or internet access via onboard menus while driving. Certain advanced driver assistance systems, namely emergency brake assists, can help with avoiding or reducing the impact of distraction induced accidents.
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