At a time when mobile technologies are the focal point of auto claims, some UK drivers are giving new meaning to the term “distracted driving.” According to Diamond, a UK-based firm that specializes in women’s car insurance, the desire by UK motorists to “accessorize” their vehicles with toys, window stickers and plush seat covers, actually leads to a higher risk of accidents.
The average UK motorist spends close to £100 on accessories to personalize their vehicles, reports Diamond, which surveyed 2,000 UK motorists on the matter. According to research results, 57 percent have accessorized their car, with floor mats (35 percent), novelty air fresheners (15 percent) and humorous window stickers (14 percent) being the most popular. Only four percent admitted having fluffy dice hanging from their rear-view mirror.
In addition, seven out of ten drivers with humorous stickers on their rear window admit that they obscure their view.
In the United States, it’s not known how many drivers apply window stickers or hang dice from their rear-view mirrors; however, one thing is clear: The incidence of distracted driving is growing exponentially, largely due to mobile technology. Tracking mobile usage as a prime causal factor is improving, but remains an imprecise science.
A Research Note published in 2009 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, noted that the government’s role in gathering data with respect to both behavioral and vehicle safety countermeasures wasn’t an easy one.
In fact, the NHTSA admitted that “measuring driver distraction in the field is difficult and potentially imprecise because of self-reporting and timing of data collection. Due to differences in methodology and definitions of distraction, each study or survey conducted may arrive at different results and conclusions with respect to the involvement of driver distraction during a crash.”
As part of a 2009 FARS report (Fatality Analysis Recording System Coding for Driver Distraction, a nationwide census providing NHTSA, Congress and the American public yearly data regarding fatal injuries suffered in motor vehicle traffic crashes), accessories was listed as one of several issues affecting distracted driving.
In its “Operating the Vehicle in Careless or Inattentive Manner” definition, the NHTSA included use of car/cell phones, text messaging, fax, GPS/Head-up display systems, DVD player, etc.; driver distracted by children; driver lighting cigarette; operating or adjusting radio and other accessories; reading, talking, daydreaming, eating, looking for an address, crash in next lane, automated highway sign, approaching emergency vehicle, using electric razor, applying cosmetics, painting nails, etc.
Today, along with improved data collection efforts, the NHTSA has devoted an entire website to distracted driving, and accessorizing not listed as a primary concern; rather, cell phone use takes center stage as its root cause.
“Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety. These types of distractions include: texting, using a cell phone or smartphone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading, including maps, using a navigation system, watching a video, adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player.”
The stats proving that hand-held mobile technology, rather than window stickers, are the most significant deterrent to safe driving are compelling:
* Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. In fact, sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which is the equivalent—at 55 mph—of driving the length of an entire football field blind.
* Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.
* In the month of June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the United States, up nearly 50 percent from June 2009.
Accessorizing in the UK takes a back seat to hand-held mobile technology, as well. According to the Drive-Safely website, music heads the list of the top ten reasons for distracted driving, followed by food/drink, made/taken phone calls, slowed to look at an accident, sending a text message, seat-belt usage, sleeping/dozing, cosmetics, updating Facebook and Tweeting.
Motorists with a valid UK driver's license who fail to exercise due care can be fined up to £60 and three drivers points being added to the offenders license. Recent statistics revealed that on average, 16,485 drivers are found guilty of breaking the distracted driving laws in Britain every year, notes the site.
Accessorizing didn’t make the list of distracted driving behaviors in Britain, which may add to its popularity. Diamond's research found one in ten (11 percent) motorists said they accessorize their car to stand out from the crowd. A similar number (13 percent) do it to express their personality. But the most popular reason why motorists accessorize their car is to make it more comfortable, one in three (29 percent) said they do it for this reason.
Diamond’s Managing Director, Sian Lewis said: "When you think how much time we can spend in our cars each week, you can understand why so many of us want to make them more comfortable or individual, but car accessories should never impede the driver's vision in any way. If you are going to adorn your rear window with stickers or soft toys, make sure they don't obscure your view."
View obstruction or not, accessorizing remains trendy, especially among younger UK motorists. Diamond’s report holds that 18-24 year olds are the most likely to have personalized their car (66 percent), while middle aged drivers in the 35-44 and 45-54 age brackets are the least likely to do so (52 percent).
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