Study: Distractions Cause Most Car Crashes

The Associated Press
Friday, April 21, 2006; 8:53 AM

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Those sleep-deprived, multitasking drivers _ clutching cell phones, fiddling with their radios or applying lipstick _ apparently are involved in an awful lot of crashes.

Distracted drivers were involved in nearly eight out of 10 collisions or near-crashes, says a study released Thursday by the government.

Researchers reviewed thousands of hours of video and data from sensor monitors linked to more than 200 drivers, and pinpointed examples of what keeps drivers from paying close attention to the road.

"We see people on the roadways talking on the phone, checking their stocks, checking scores, fussing with their MP3 players, reading e-mails, all while driving 40, 50, 60, 70 miles per hour and sometimes even faster," said Jacqueline Glassman, acting administrator of the government's highway safety agency.

A driver's reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or potential collision by nine times, according to researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

They found that the risk of a crash increases almost threefold when a driver is dialing a cell phone.

Video footage shows four different angles of the driver _ the face, a view of the steering wheel and instrument panel, and front and rear views of the vehicle _ and offers a look at the moments before a crash:

_a young woman craning her neck to look out the driver's side window before rear-ending a stopped car. She cups her hand over her mouth in disbelief.

_an out-of-control sedan skidding in front a woman's car, causing a collision. The air bag deploys and the driver's hair, tied back behind her ears, flies into her face.

Researchers said the report showed the first links between crash risks and a driver's activities, from eating and talking to receiving e-mail.

"All of these activities are much more dangerous than we thought before," said Dr. Charlie Klauer, a senior research associate at the institute. Data from police reports had estimated that driver inattention was a factor in about 25 percent of crashes.

Some safety organizations said the study was part of a growing body of research and worried it might lead to reactionary laws.

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