Believe it or not, using your phone isn’t the most dangerous activity to do while driving. Chatting with your passengers is.
It sounds weird, but according to federal data, more than half of distracted driving accidents were caused by conversations with passengers. Sometimes, it seems, we all just get way too lost in dialogue.
The next most likely distraction is your phone: texting, dialing numbers, Googling things, looking at your directions, changing a song, taking a selfie. All that only accounts for 12 percent of distracted driving accidents.
Focusing on other in-car objects -- putting on chapstick, swatting a fly, wiping a smudge off your window -- make up 11 percent of those accidents.
Actions of passengers other than talking -- like stupid in-car dance moves or kids fighting in the back seat -- cause another 7 percent, and everything else (eating, adjusting the radio, moving your seat, anything else) cause the remaining 23 percent.
The numbers add to more than 100 percent because some drivers experience multiple distractions.
The moral of story: we blame cellphones for way too many crashes.
"To effectively tackle the problem of distracted driving, we need a broader approach that takes into account the many and varied sources of driver distraction," wrote Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in a 2014 study. "Singling out cellphones may lead drivers to disregard the fact that other behaviors that divert their attention from the road are risky, too.”
Obviously don’t use your phone while driving, but also make sure you are focusing on driving despite everything else going on in your car, or what your shotgun rider is doing.
That’s not to suggest, however, that passengers are dangerous. They’re just around all the time.
According to that IIHS study, interacting with passengers is the most common secondary activity we do while driving (where the first activity is operating our car).
Drivers also use phones. But many of them try to overcompensate so they’re not as distracted, researchers say. For instance, drivers will hold their phones up over the steering wheel to try to see both their screen and the road. Many drivers will only text while sitting in traffic or at red lights.
And phone users on average drive 5 to 6 miles per hour slower when using their phones, according to IIHS.
We don’t slow down while talking to friends, or really while doing anything else. In fact, studies show we drive faster when angry, so don’t fight with passengers or speed off after a bad day at the office.
Inattentiveness caused by personal problems, family problems and preceding arguments are cause for 6 percent of crashes that come without physical distractions. In other words, drivers were so wrapped up in their own thoughts, it caused them to hit something.
Crashes without physical distractions are actually 3.5 times more likely than those with physical distractions.
So what does this all mean?
It’s a lot easier to get distracted and hence into a car accident than we think. And when we do make mistakes on the roads, we often blame the wrong things.
Most of the time, we -- the drivers -- are to blame. We’ve lost focus.
Other times, our passengers have stolen our attention away from the road.
And other times, it really is our phones.