The New Killer on the Road

by William


Distracted driving is the number one killer of teens in the United States. According to the American Beverage Institute (ABI) distracted driving is an increasingly dangerous problem, even more so than driving drunk. In the past 20 years drunk driving deaths have gone down, but the number of traffic fatalities has remained the same. The ABI attributes this to an increase in aggressive, negligent and distracted driving.

While the ABI doesn’t have a strict definition for “distracted driving” they imply that it includes driving drowsy, talking on the phone or texting while driving, speeding or being aggressive, and basically not paying attention to the road. This is a pretty broad array of behaviors but the popularity of cell phones over the two decades and the increase in road rage certainly helped the rate of “distracted driving” fatalities shoot up.

The American Beverage Institute has been a leader in anti-drunk driving campaigns but feels that the problem is larger than drunk driving alone, hence there full page advertisement in this weeks U.S. News and World Report. The ad shows a woman talking on her cell phone, sending a text message, checking her email, eating, and speeding and it reads:

“She would never drive drunk yet she’s MORE dangerous than a drunk driver.”


When done behind the wheel, many everyday activities can be lethal. In fact:

— Distracted driving is the number one killer of American teens.
Alcohol-related accidents among teens have dropped, but because
distracted driving is on the rise, teenage traffic fatalities remain
— While over 90% of teen drivers say they don’t drive drunk, nine out
of 10 say they’ve seen drivers distracted by passengers or using cell
— A drowsy driver, or even one going ten miles faster than others on the
road, is more dangerous than one who is legally intoxicated.
— More than 80% of drivers admit to hazardous behavior while behind the
wheel including: reading, changing clothes, steering with feet,
painting nails, and shaving.
— Drivers on cell phones are more impaired than drivers with a .08 BAC

Sarah Longwell, spokeswoman for the ABI, made the point, “most people would never drive drunk, yet people don’t think twice before taking a call while driving, sending a text message, or eating, even though those actions are often as bad, if not worse than driving drunk.”


I’m totally with the ABI on this one. Distracted driving is a serious problem and really dangerous. Even things like CD players and IPods have made it worse. I know I’ve had several close calls doing things like turning the volume up, or reading a sign to long. Some of it is a person to person kind of thing, but there are only so many things the human brain can focus on at once. I’ve gotten in the habit of not taking calls while driving (I think it is illegal here now) and if I need to make a call I pull off the road or just wait. I’ll admit I still do it occasionally but the close calls have taught me fast.

My one critique of the ad campaign is that it seems to down play the severity of drunk driving a bit. If people think that drunk driving is less dangerous than driving while talking on a cell phone, I know some people will read the ad and think, “I can drive fine while I’m on my cell phone, so driving with a little buzz is no big deal.” Hopefully their new campaign against distracted driving will have some affect.

-Bill Mertz

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3 Responses to “The New Killer on the Road”

  1. kp Says:

    Totally. True.

    I rear-ended Nick in Tahoe City once because I was waving to our cousin Jon…lesson learned.

  2. Mr Toad Says:

    Yes KP rear ended me. You can still see the holes in the bumper from the bolts on her license plate. But I actually have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’m all for increased road safety, and warning people about the dangers of distracted driving certainly seems like a step in the right direction. On the other hand, itemizing small details like this can create reliance on looking for those signs and missing the bigger picture. I’ve always felt that improved knowledge of what constitutes “good” and “bad” driving is more important than singling out specific activities. In other words, there are some people that drive stone sober with both hands on the wheel and are still a safety hazard. Of course there’s a line to be drawn—even if you can drive drunk without crashing, a legal exception shouldn’t be made–but, I’d hope that law enforcement would focus primarily on what is and isn’t safe rather than singling out individual activities. That said, education is a good thing, and I can definitely get behind spreading the good word about distracted driving.

  3.   Distracted Driving: Worse than Drunk Driving | Study Driving Says:

    […] A post on Automotive Blogger cites that distracted driving is an even worse killer on the road than drunk driving. […]

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