Three-quarters of Oregon drivers in a recent survey admitted to driving while distracted, mostly by engagement with a cell phone. That is just one finding of a study of distracted driving commissioned by the Oregon Department of Transportation and conducted by Southern Oregon University.
Nearly 1,600 Oregonians participated in the February 2016 survey, and most of them – 84 percent – said they feel uncomfortable riding as a passenger with a driver who is distracted. Yet 44 percent admitted to driving distracted with passengers in their vehicle, while 75 percent of respondents admitted to driving distracted when alone in their vehicles.
“Our goal is nothing short of a change in cultural norms when it comes to distracted driving,” said ODOT Director Matt Garrett. “We are mobilizing all our assets at ODOT, putting together a coalition of partners that will use this study and others to help us effectively engage, influence and ultimately change the behavior of Oregon drivers.”
Eighty-three percent of respondents agreed that distracted driving incidents are increasing and believe that stronger laws, better use of technology, and increased awareness are keys to helping address the problem.
Specifically, the study revealed that 29 percent of respondents feel there is a need for stronger laws. Currently, the fine for non-hands-free use of a cell phone amounts to $500. The study recommends raising that limit to $1,000. Nearly half believe technology can reduce distraction. Use of technology includes apps that prohibit drivers from using their cell phones while behind the wheel.
ODOT crash data reveals that on average, over the five-year period from 2010 to 2014, a distracted driver crash occurred every 2.5 hours and someone received a conviction for using a cell phone while driving every half-hour. In Oregon on average, more than 11 people die in distracted driving crashes each year, and over 2,800 are injured.
“It’s actually very difficult to determine if distraction was the primary cause of a crash, because people don’t often admit if they were using their cell phones or otherwise distracted,” said Tom Fuller, Communications Section manager and sponsor of the study. “It’s likely the real numbers are far higher.”
Download the study (PDF).