Over the years, I’ve seen numerous studies showing specific states had higher or lower rates of distracted drivers. The results among different studies are often inconsistent. Different studies lead to different findings. In one, Alabama may be listed as a state with a higher rate of distracted driving. In another study, Alabama may be lower.
These different studies often have a common problem. What is it? It’s the sample. These different studies often sample only a small percentage of drivers in a specific area. A sample of driver activities within the city limits of Huntsville is likely to be very different than a sample from nearby rural Jackson County. It’s not the drivers who make the results different. It’s the driving conditions. The differences are due to traffic volumes and road conditions. How can you take one of these studies and say it reflects driver behavior across an entire state? You cannot.
If you want to understand driver behavior, you really should look at the actual roadway conditions drivers face. Look at specific highway or traffic situations. How do drivers facing specific situations behave?
I believe road and traffic conditions often determine driver behavior. So, I found a recent cellphone data study of drivers interesting. You can read the study here:
Heads Up: Phone Data Shows Road Characteristics Linked to Distracted Driving
What does the study show us? Researchers at Texas A&M looked at a massive amount of cellphone data. Of course, we all have cellphones with us. And, they are the most common factor in distracted driving incidents.
Researchers used a smartphone application that tracked actual driver behavior. In analyzing the data, they found certain external factors influenced the rate of distracted driving. These factors included wide roadway shoulders, wide medians, high speed limits, high lane counts and the absence of traffic lights. Drivers behave differently based on the conditions around them. Drivers are more likely to divert their attention (become distracted) when they feel more comfortable and safe. In other words, that wide shoulder gives drivers a higher comfort level and leads to misplaced confidence in diverting their attention. Roadway conditions contribute to the rate of distracted driving.
This study makes perfect sense. With any activity, as a person becomes confident and comfortable they often try to multi-task or divert part of their attention. Higher confidence and comfort lead to higher risk-taking behavior. It is very difficult to divert your attention if roadway conditions are unfamiliar, if traffic is stop-and-go, or if the road allows little margin for errors in driving. But, a wide roadway that allows some movement with no traffic signals, is a very different environment.
How can this study help reduce deadly distracted driving? The data helps researchers learn the road conditions which contribute to overall distracted driving. With this understanding, transportation agencies can implement design or signage changes. And, local communities can learn where law enforcement needs a more visible presence for driver safety. Hopefully, we can reduce the number of needless injuries and deaths on our Alabama roadways.
The Blackwell Law Firm represents people across Alabama who have suffered serious personal injury in a car or commercial truck accident. If you have questions about Alabama law, let us know. We are happy to discuss the issues and provide information. Our consultations are always free and confidential.