Drivers Show Distracted Behavior During Risky Driving Maneuvers: Study

Study tracked more than 34,000 commercial drivers and more than 13 million video events in 2010, comparing risky driving maneuvers and distracted driving behaviors.

San Diego: Underscoring the importance of April's National Distracted Driving Awareness campaign, SmartDrive Systems, a leader in fleet safety and operational efficiency, has released the 2010 SmartDrive Distracted Driving Index, a revealing look at commercial fleet distracted driving rates during the past year.

Among several significant findings, the 2010 SDDI report shows that the top 5 percent of drivers with the most driving distractions were distracted 67 percent of the time during which a risky driving maneuver was observed. That's nearly six times more often than the rest of the drivers.

The SmartDrive Distracted Driving Index summarizes the 2010 performance of commercial drivers observed during a benchmark period prior to starting the SmartDrive Safety program. This study provides fleet safety professionals with an ongoing measurement of causes and trends in distracted driving behaviors to help them put safer drivers on the road.

SDDI data is compiled using in-vehicle recorders that capture video, audio and vehicle data during sudden stops, swerves, collisions and other risky driving maneuvers. Events are categorized and scored according to more than 50 safety observations.

The study evaluated more than 13.8 million video events recorded over the course of 2010, involving 34,466 commercial drivers. Through in-depth review by SmartDrive Expert Safety Analysts, SmartDrive is able to quantify distractions such as cell phone usage, text messaging, use of maps or navigation, doing paperwork, and other actions. The percentages reflect how often a distraction was observed when a risky driving maneuver was recorded.

Overall 2010 distraction rate was 9.7 percent of the time risky driving maneuvers were observed.

The nine most common distractions observed in conjunction with a risky driving maneuver were:

Distraction - 2010 rate

  • Object in hand - 44.5 percent
  • Talking on a handheld mobile phone - 13.4 percent
  • Beverage - 12.7 percent
  • Food - 10.1 percent
  • Smoking - 9.9 percent
  • Operating a handheld device - 9.1 percent
  • Talking/listening mobile phone - hands free - 5.2 percent
  • Manifest, map or navigation - 1 percent
  • Grooming/personal hygiene - 0.6 percent

Two distractions in particular are particularly risky and more common among a small percentage the benchmark drivers – using a handheld mobile phone and operating a handheld device. In both instances just 5 percent of the drivers accounted for the majority of events involving those devices – 57 percent of all mobile phone incidents captured and 52 percent of all operating-handheld-device incidents.

"Throughout 2010 we continued to see a strong connection between these driving distractions and fundamental driving errors that can lead to collisions. Early identification of this 5 percent group is extremely important, because the sooner they know who they are, the sooner fleets begin training to change risky-driving behaviors in this higher-risk group," says Jason Palmer, president of SmartDrive.

As an indication that training and focused coaching has a positive impact, the overall distracted driving rate across longer-term drivers in the SmartDrive Safety program in the 2010 SDDI was just 6.2 percent, 36.1 percent lower than the rate for the benchmark drivers.