Monday, May 23, 2022

Distracted driving caused one-fifth of all auto crashes last year in Virginia. Here’s the rundown

Virginia's new "Eyes on Road" license plate, which is now available (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Virginia DMV)
Virginia’s new “Eyes on Road” license plate, which is now available (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Virginia DMV)

Distracted driving is a leading cause of automobile crashes across Virginia and the nation.

But it’s not just cellphones that are distracting drivers.

Last year in the state distracted driving was cited as the cause of 26,123 crashes – 20.5 percent of all crashes – a slight increase of 2.5 percent from 2016.

Unfortunately, the fatalities involved in distracted driving incidents rose significantly from 2016 to 2017, increasing by 18.2 percent, to a total of 208 (24.7 percent of all traffic fatalities). Drivers killed in distracted driving crashes totaled 147; 37 were passengers; and 24 pedestrians also died in distracted driving incidents.

“In 2017, Virginia experienced the highest number of fatal crashes involving distracted driving since at least 2010, which is as far as our online database goes back,” said Brandy Brubaker, media liaison with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. “The next highest numbers of distracted driving fatalities during that time period were 176 in 2016 and 174 in 2012.”

Distracted driving can involve many things, Brubaker said.

“Eyes not on road” was the No. 1 distraction and it involves anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road. It can include being distracted by others in the car (children or other passengers), adjusting the radio or music system, eating, and even personal grooming.

Looking at a “roadside incident” was the second most common distraction, while “cell/text” was third.

Drivers distracted by using a cellphone accounted for 1,587 crashes across the state, just 6.1 percent of the total crashes. Texting drivers were cited in just 173 crashes, accounting for less than 1 percent of all distracted driving crashes.

However, cellphone use in crashes is likely under-reported, Brubaker said, because drivers may not admit to the behavior.

Fatalities because of distracted driving were more likely to take place on non-interstate roads (167 or 80.3 percent) than on interstates (41 or 19.7 percent).

Texting while driving is illegal in Virginia and is considered a primary offense.

Sending or reading an incoming text can take a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which at 55 mph is equivalent to driving the length of a football field.

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