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The heavy toll of distracted driving

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Friday, April 12, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

Here's a tweet to ponder: Of the 65,000 highway fatalities that occurred in 2010 and 2011, 1 in 10 involved at least one distracted driver.

(Hopefully, you're not reading this while driving.)

The eye-opening statistic comes courtesy of a new analysis of highway safety data conducted by Pennsylvania-based Erie Insurance and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Erie, which sells auto insurance as well as home and life products, pored over the police reports that make up the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, or FARS, compiled annually by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to reveal this casual killer.

So what exactly is distracted driving? Police officers broke down the top 10 distractions involved in 2010 and 2011 traffic fatalities this way:

  • General state of distraction/lost in thought/daydreaming: 62 percent.
  • Cellphone use: 12 percent.
  • Outside person or object/"rubbernecking": 7 percent.
  • Distracting passengers: 5 percent.
  • Using or reaching for gadgets: 2 percent.
  • Eating or drinking: 2 percent.
  • Adjusting audio or temperature: 2 percent.
  • Using onboard systems (GPS, etc.): 1 percent.
  • Moving objects, such as pets or insects in the vehicle: 1 percent.
  • Smoking-related: 1 percent

Erie analysts note that because the statistics are based on police reports from the scene, where some of those involved in a fatal crash may be reluctant to admit to losing focus, actual distracted driving statistics may be higher than the FARS estimates.

Some distractions can't be helped -- they're risks we assume every time we slide behind the wheel. But gadget use while driving is entirely within our control.

To avoid becoming a statistic to your cell phone, Erie recommends these safety steps:

  • Let incoming cell phone calls go to voicemail.
  • If you must answer, ask the caller to call back later, and hang up.
  • If you must talk or text, pull over before doing so.
  • If you don't want your children to end up a statistic, set a good example.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.

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