The Cost of Distracted Driving

Financial IQ

“An epidemic:” That’s how U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has described the effects of distracted driving.

And when you take a look at the numbers, distracted driving has taken thousands of lives and resulted in hundreds of thousands of injuries.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,331 people were killed in 2011 in automobile crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010.

An additional 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.

Looking beyond the smartphone

When you think of “distracted driving,” smartphones probably come to mind.

Many of us have been told that text messaging or talking on the phone while driving are dangerous distractions — but they’re not the only way you can be distracted while behind the wheel.

The NHTSA says eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading, using your GPS, watching a video or adjusting the radio are all distractions you should avoid as well.

While the main focus is on the human cost of this “epidemic,” researchers are also considering the financial cost. Between the fatalities, injuries, damages and lawsuits, the costs associated with distracted driving are staggering.

According to the National Safety Council, a Harvard risk analysis study estimated the annual cost of crashes caused by cellphone use to be $43 billion, which amounts to $3.58 billion a month.

The National Safety Council suggests 25 percent of crashes are the result of cellphone use, and that text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving not distracted.

At the same time, when you factor in the other distractions that can divert a person’s attention from the roadway — eating, talking to passengers and more — it stands to reason that the numbers will increase.

Indirect costs

In addition to the costs associated with distracted driving-related crashes, money is also spent on education, policies, new technology and state and national manpower dedicated to avoiding such accidents.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, $17.5 million has been allotted for fiscal year 2013 to provide grants to states to enact and enforce distracted driving laws. These grants will allow states to establish the best practices for enforcement programs.

For example, in 2012, Massachusetts and Connecticut were each awarded $275,000 to train police officers to better spot drivers who are texting, as well as to develop media techniques to better alert the public about the dangers of distracted driving.

Thirty-nine states ban text messaging by all drivers, and another six states restrict texting for some categories of drivers, leaving only five states with no text messaging restrictions.

In other words, state and national lawmakers are aggressively targeting distracted driving.

The bottom line

Hopefully, the money spent enacting new laws and educating the driving public about the dangers of distracted driving can help reduce the number of deaths and injuries that happen as a result of distracted driving-related accidents.

This guest post comes from the editors of The Allstate Blog, which helps people prepare for the unpredictability of life.


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