It turns out a driver talking on a cell phone isn’t as likely to cause a car wreck as the guy in the next car over seething about the driver on a cellular phone.
A study for the AAA Safety Foundation revealed that cell phones account for only 1.5 percent of accidents that could be blamed on driver distraction.
(Nearly twice as many wrecks were caused by drivers adjusting the car’s climate controls.) But 30 percent of distraction-related accidents were caused by outside stimuli — billboards and, especially, rubbernecking.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says inattentive drivers are to blame in 25 percent of crashes. Of those, half were distracted by something either inside or outside the car. (The others were just lost in thought, with no external stimulus to distract them.)
Local numbers back that up: Lt. Ben Kulina of the Mesa Police Department reported that distracted drivers caused about 10 percent of the 8,345 collisions police responded to last year. Compare that to speeding and failure to yield right- of-way, which each accounted for 28 percent of crashes.
Think your driving is above reproach? You’re wrong: Another AAA study used incar cameras to examine how drivers behaved while they were behind the wheel, and every single person did something that distracted their attention from the road.
In that study, 100 percent of drivers manipulated vehicle controls (beyond the windshield wipers or turn signals), 91 percent fiddled with the audio controls, 86 percent were distracted by something outside the car and 77 percent of drivers took their eyes off the road. ("Car-aoke" buffs can take heart that singing in the car, coded separately from conversing with others in the car, was not considered a distraction.)
What distracts us?
Each age category in the AAA study was most often distracted by a different external factor:
Drivers younger than 20:
Adjusting the radio, cassette or CD player
20-29: Other occupants in the car
30-49: Dialing and using a cell phone
50-64: Eating and drinking
65 and older: Objects and events outside the vehicle