DPS stats shed light on distracted driving

Basic Speed Law

It may be helpful to review the law referred to below by DPS; it is what’s known as the “Basic Speed Law”, in Arizona, it is

§28-701  Reasonable and prudent speed; prima facie evidence; exceptions

A. A person shall not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances, conditions and actual and potential hazards then existing. A person shall control the speed of a vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with any object, person, vehicle or other conveyance on, entering or adjacent to the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to exercise reasonable care for the protection of others…

In other words, if you run into something or someone you are not supposed to, you have violated the basic speed law; the infraction in that case is referred to as something to the effect of “failure to control speed”.

Recently in the wake of the death of DPS officer Tim Huffman due to what appears to be blatant distracted driving… and this being distracted driving awareness month; Arizona DPS is running a crackdown and general media campaign, and has released some Arizona numbers on distracted driving. Here is the DPS press release; a news story is pasted below.

summary: distraction of any kind is associated with about 1 in 10 crashes (1,160 out of ~ 10,000 crashes reviewed); and cell use was the cause of distraction in about  one-quarter of those crashes (127 of the 1,160). SO DON’T JUST DWELL ON CELL PHONES.

First off, let me state for the record — i don’t think people should be using any sort of cell (text, talk, handsfree, handheld) while driving. And the NTSB agrees with me. That being said…

The LAB (among others) seem to me to tend to harp on (especially) handheld cell bans as going to provide some huge safety benefit for bicyclists. empirical studies of cell-ban laws don’t seem to show any great benefit. There are many possible explanations for why this might be true; foremost among them probably is that handheld cell use in-and-of-itself is a relatively small part of the overall traffic safety problem.

DPS stats shed light on distracted driving

Over a five-month period, 10 people died and 380 were injured as a result of distracted driving, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

DPS held a five-day campaign this month to target distracted driving through enforcement and education, and in a newly released report, it released statistics about crashes and citations during that period alongside data gathered from Nov. 27 to April 1.

Nearly 200,000 traffic stops were reviewed during the five-month period, DPS said, and out of more than 10,000 total crashes, 1,160 were related to distracted driving.

Of those wrecks attributed to distracted driving, DPS found that:

■ 255 wrecks were caused by outside distractions outside the vehicle, a broad category that includes other drivers and sign spinners.

■ 130 collisions were caused when drivers were reaching for an object in their vehicle.

■ 127 wrecks were attributed to cell-phone use, which includes making and receiving phone calls and text messages.

The collection period also looked at more than 8,000 stops that DPS officers made on vehicles in which the drivers appeared distracted because they exhibited behaviors that included swerving and driving slowly. Officers later determined that cell-phone use caused the distractions in the bulk of those stops — about 2,500 — while 1,900 were attributed to other people inside the vehicles and nearly 1,800 were caused by outside distractions.

“We’re looking at distracted driving not just with cell-phone use,” said Officer Carrick Cook, a DPS spokesman. “The numbers show that outside distractions are so significant. That should act as a reminder that distracted driving is not just cell-phone use, it’s everything.”

Officers took the lessons from the collection period and applied them to a concentrated effort this month to educate drivers about those dangers, Cook said.

During the five-day period (April 10-15), nearly 600 enforcement actions were related to distracted driving. The majority of the incidents involved cell phones, followed by other occupants and outside distractions respectively, according to the report.

Investigators also studied 15 crashes that were related to distracted driving, including seven wrecks that resulted from external distractions, five that came through cell-phone use and three that were attributed to other passengers distracting the driver, according to the report.

During this month’s campaign, the majority of people stopped were issued warnings instead of citations, according to the report.

NHTSA puts out an annual Traffic Safety Facts on distracted driving :

In 2012, there were a total of 30,800 fatal crashes in the United States involving 45,337 drivers. As a result of those fatal crashes, 33,561 people were killed. In 2012, 3,050 fatal crashes occurred on U.S. roadways that  involved distraction (10% of all fatal crashes). These crashes involved 3,119 distracted drivers, as some crashes involved more than one distracted driver. Distraction was reported  for 7 percent (3,119 of 45,337) of the drivers involved in fatal crashes. In these distraction-affected crashes, 3,328 fatalities (10% of overall fatalities) occurred. Table 1 provides information on crashes, drivers, and fatalities involved in distraction-affected crashes in 2012.
Much attention across the country has been devoted to the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.
In 2012, 378 fatal crashes were reported to have involved the  use of cell phones as a distraction (12% of all fatal distraction-affected crashes).For these distraction-affected crashes,  the police accident report stated the driver was talking on,  listening to, or manipulating a cell phone (or other cell phone activity) at the time of the crash. Cell phones were reported  as a distraction for 13 percent of the distracted drivers in  fatal crashes. A total of 415 people died in fatal crashes that involved the use of cell phones as distractions.

In summary (Table 1)

  • all persons killed 33,561
  • killed in distraction-affected crashes 3,328 (10% of the total)
  • 415 killed where a cell phone was the source of distraction (1.2% of all persons killed).

Table 3 Percentage Killed in Distraction-Affected Crashes, by Person Type, 2012 . . . Pedestrian 13% . . . Pedalcyclist 2%. The federal figures seem to be broadly consistent with the numbers DPS came up with. The report does not break down the 2% of cyclists killed via cell phone distraction.

I am generally impressed by the hard-line DPS has taken about reasonable-and-prudent speed (i.e. despite a specific law banning distraction, it is still a violation) but I wish they would themselves not harp on cell phones; any distraction that takes drivers’ eyes off the road is a problem, not just cell phones.

Highway patrol focuses on distracted drivers

…The law says, “A person shall not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances, conditions and actual and potential hazards then existing.” A reasonable speed while not looking at the road while texting is zero, (DPS spokesperson )Cook said.

One of DPS’ own was killed last year by a distracted driver.

“In Arizona, DPS has lost 16 of its 29 officers who were killed in the line of duty in traffic related incidents with the most recent being Officer Tim Huffman,” said Lt. Colonel James McGuffin of the DPS Highway Patrol Division.


5 thoughts on “DPS stats shed light on distracted driving”

  1. I was rear ended twice in 17minths in AZ. by a texting driver one was only 16 years old. I think the law in AZ is weak and rarely enforced. Everytime they try to pass a texting and driving law it is voted down.

  2. As someone who lives and works in midtown and downtown Phoenix, I think distracted driving is a huge issue. I am not sure what the best way to police it is, but I agree that more should be done to establish better driving practices.

    On the other hand, and since this is a bike blog, I think we could do more for bicyclists (bike lanes) to provide safety. Also, bicyclists are not immune from distracted behavior either.

  3. I am all for reducing dangerous activities but let’s keep perspective and let’s keep things evidence-based…
    VW commercial about cell use / texting while driving movie
    ends with the statement
    “Mobile Use Is Now The Leading Cause of Death Behind the Wheel”
    The video begins by noting it is in Hong Kong.
    I have no idea whether that is accurate for HK or not but in the US the NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts: Distracted Driving 2012 says out of 33,561 killed, 3,328 were distraction (from all causes; cell, eating, applying makeup, fighting kids, etc etc) and of those 415 were related to cell use (of any kind, talk, text, dropping phone, whatever).

    Cell phone use in general, and texting in particular is far, far, far from the leading cause of traffic fatalities in the US.

    Some quick facts about HK: land area is a bit smaller than the city of Phoenix(!) with population of 7 million; in other words, it is very dense. There are very few traffic fatalities there, (e.g. 120 in 2012). To throw in a quick apples-to-oranges comparison, the State of Arizona with a similar population suffered SEVEN TIMES as many fatalities. One might imagine traffic there is generally slower and more congested.

    also see opinion piece by James Hilston on the subject:
    “People naturally assume that with the burgeoning use of cell phones in recent years, the number of overall crashes must be rising as well. Strange as it may seem, however, the number of crashes and fatalities overall have steadily declined, in spite of the exponential growth of cell phone use and text-messaging”

  4. There were some DPS stats on distracted driving in the news story highlighting Senator Farley’s repeated attempts, and Andy Bigg’s repeated blockages of, outlawing texting while driving. this year it’s SB1102
    I didn’t look too closely but I’m thinking they were in line with the numbers reported earlier, above.

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