Back in the early '90s, when the World Wide Web was new, I was so lost in thought about all the things we could do with the website we were designing that I drove right past my exit on my way home from work.

It brought home to me the fact that distracted driving doesn't have to involve texting or a cell phone or any other type of technology.

Now research by Erie Insurance shows that daydreaming, or being "lost in thought," is far worse than cell phone use when it comes to distracted-driving crashes.

Erie analyzed two years of police report data in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a nationwide census of fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Erie Insurance consulted with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in its analysis.

"Distracted driving is any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off your primary task of driving safely," said Doug Smith, senior vice president of personal lines at Erie Insurance. "We looked at what law enforcement officers across the country reported when they filled out reports on fatal crashes, and the results were disturbing."

The analysis, which looked at data from 2010 and 2011, showed police listed the majority of drivers who were distracted as "generally distracted" or "lost in thought." Police also listed several more specific types of distractions.

Below are the top 10 distractions involved in fatal car crashes:

  1. Generally distracted or "lost in thought": 62%
  2. Cell phone use (talking listening, dialing, texting): 12%
  3. Outside person, object or event, such as rubbernecking: 7%
  4. Other occupants (talking with or looking at other people in car): 5%
  5. Using or reaching for device brought into vehicle, such as navigational device, headphones: 2%
  6. Eating or drinking: 2%
  7. Adjusting audio or climate controls: 2%
  8. Using other device/controls integral to the vehicle, such as adjusting rearview mirrors or using OE navigation system: 1%
  9. Moving object in vehicle, such as pet or insect: 1%
  10. Smoking-related: 1%

Smith added that because FARS data on distraction is based largely on police officers' judgment at the time of the crash, and because some people may be reluctant to admit they were distracted when being interviewed by police after a fatal car crash, the numbers are difficult to verify and may, in fact, under-represent the seriousness and prevalence of driving distractions.

Obviously this is not trucking-specific, but you have to wonder: How is Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood going to regulate daydreaming?

Click here to go to the full-size version of the infographic:

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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