Eyes On the Road

April 18, 2023
Distracted driving continues to be a big obstacle for road safety

By Gavin Jenkins, Senior Managing Editor

A common stereotype is that teenagers play with their phones while they drive. There’s some truth to this: 35% of teens admit to texting and driving, even though 94% of them understand the dangers, according to AAA.

Distracted driving comes in many forms: talking on the phone, sending a quick text message, changing the Spotify channel, eating, smoking, drinking, or talking to a passenger. And, if we’re being honest, it knows no age. 

Odds are drivers in each age bracket have taken their eyes off the road to pay attention to something other than the road.

Nationwide, distracted driving plays a role in 9% of all fatal crashes and 15% of crashes where there is an injury.

In Missouri, where the Missouri Department of Transportation is hosting this year’s National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW), over 70% of crashes where a cell phone was involved, the driver was 22 or older, according to Nicole Hood, state highway safety and traffic engineer at MoDOT.

Distracted driving is a major problem in keeping our roads safe, and it’s a focus point of NWZAW, now in it’s 24th year.

Missouri and Montana are the only states where texting and driving are still legal. However, Missouri has a texting ban for drivers who are 21 and under.

“I would definitely agree that it’s not just a younger driver problem,” said Hood, who has been with MoDOT for 26 years. “One of our speaking points is that it’s not just that younger age group” who are using their phones while driving.

“It’s certainly a problem for all drivers,” Hood added. 

Across the country, roughly 660,000 drivers are using their cell phones while operating a vehicle at any moment in the day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

It takes about five seconds to read a text message, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. During that time, a motorist can drive about the length of a football field if their car maintains a speed of 55 mph. That is 360 feet with eyes on their phone and not the road.

“Up through Covid-19, we were having really good progress with this,” said Stacy Tetschner, president and CEO of the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA). “Since the pandemic, with distracted driving, we’ve run into some challenges. It seems like it’s back on the decline again. But we had two years there where we had a jump” in work zone crashes due to distracted drivers.

Tetschner has a theory about this jump. He thinks that during the pandemic, since there were less people on the road, people drove faster, and some weren’t used to driving as much at that time.

“I’m not sure if it was pandemic related, but for whatever reason, we got away from not texting and driving,” Tetschner said. 

Zooming while driving — the act of being on a video call app like Zoom while driving —became distraction that was pandemic-related. It continues to be a big distraction in 2023.

In fact, last year Ohio state senator Andrew Brenner was caught driving during a Zoom call as the Ohio House considered a distracted-driving bill. On camera, Brenner, how is 52, was seen wearing a seat belt against a backdrop photograph of his office.

“This is our week to point out that distracted driving is still a challenge for us,” he said.

Sponsored Recommendations

The Science Behind Sustainable Concrete Sealing Solutions

Extend the lifespan and durability of any concrete. PoreShield is a USDA BioPreferred product and is approved for residential, commercial, and industrial use. It works great above...

Proven Concrete Protection That’s Safe & Sustainable

Real-life DOT field tests and university researchers have found that PoreShieldTM lasts for 10+ years and extends the life of concrete.

Revolutionizing Concrete Protection - A Sustainable Solution for Lasting Durability

The concrete at the Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center is subject to several potential sources of damage including livestock biowaste, food/beverage waste, and freeze/thaw...

The Future of Concrete Preservation

PoreShield is a cost-effective, nontoxic alternative to traditional concrete sealers. It works differently, absorbing deep into the concrete pores to block damage from salt ions...