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Distracted driving tends to cause more severe crashes, study finds

This file photo from April shows a makeshift memorial for a cyclist struck by a hit-and-run motorist in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

A new study says crashes caused by distracted driving tend to be more severe than others, and their severity also depends on the type of setting in which they occur — a finding that suggests more attention should be paid to roadway design.

The study by researchers at the Risk Institute at Ohio State University found that distracted driving raises the odds that a crash will cause severe injury or death, compared with other crashes, particularly if those distraction-related crashes involve rear-end collisions or occur in work zones or on interstate highways.

Everybody sees everybody else as a distracted driver, AAA finds

By contrast, roundabouts or rotaries appear to lower the risk of crashes and diminish the severity of distraction-related crashes — perhaps because those roadway configurations force drivers to pay attention. The researchers say more targeted law enforcement and attention to design might also help combat distracted driving.

The study also comes a day after an allegedly distracted driver hit a pack of bicyclists in Florida, killing a 53-year-old woman and injuring six others, one critically. It also comes as the federal government and the telecommunications companies continue to do little about a problem that safety advocates say can be as close as the nearest street or highway.

The Miami Herald identified the bicyclist who was killed as Denise Marsh, a mother of two and an office manager who had recently graduated from Broward College. Local media and Facebook postings say Marsh and her family often rode with a group called Cycling Family Broward.

The Herald, citing a police account, said 14 bicyclists were traveling on Route 84 near Southwest 148th Avenue in the Miami suburb of Davie on Sunday morning when a Honda hit the outside column of riders. The driver was identified in media reports as Nicole Vanderweit, 33, who was allegedly distracted by something in her car and sun glare. The media report says she consented to download the contents of her mobile phone and gave a sworn statement; she has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Police in Davie did not respond Monday afternoon to an email and telephone call seeking comment and additional information.

I took AAA's distracted driving road test. It wasn't pretty.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says about 9 percent of all fatal crashes in 2016 were the result of distracted driving.

Ohio State’s paper – which was authored by Zhenhua Chen and Youngbin Lym – analyzed 1.4 million police records obtained from the Ohio Department of Transportation for crashes that occurred between 2013 and 2017. During that period, the number of distracted-driving-related crashes increased in Ohio, just as the number has increased nationwide.

The analysis found that in-vehicle distractions accounted for 48 percent of the crashes. It also found that younger drivers — particularly those between 20 and 24 years of age — account for the highest percentage of crashes, both as a result of distracted driving and other causes.

The unpublished paper has been submitted to the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, a spokeswoman said. She also said part of the Ohio State study has been reviewed for a scheduled presentation at the upcoming Transportation Research Board’s annual conference in January.

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