According to the results of the 2021 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving, a national survey of more than 1,000 consumers and business managers, distracted driving behaviors have increased from their pre-pandemic levels.
The survey asked respondents to report on their driving behaviors and found an increase in those who reported engaging in dangerous phone-related distractions. More specifically:
- 26% of survey respondents said they had sent texts or emails while driving (up from 19% pre-pandemic).
- 20% admitted to checking social media (up from 13% pre-pandemic).
- 19% had taken videos or pictures while driving (up from 10% pre-pandemic).
- 17% said they had shopped online (up from 8% pre-pandemic).
These increases are certainly disturbing, not to mention confusing. In a time when fewer people are driving and much of life is moving at a slower pace, why would more people be engaging in risky driving behaviors?
A False Sense of Security
One reason may in fact be the decrease in traffic volume. In the early days of the pandemic, the wide-open roads may have encouraged many people to take more risks while driving, especially speeding. Indeed, many states reported an increase in fatal car accidents during 2020. The increases were particularly marked during March-May 2020, when most states were under their strictest lockdowns and stay-at-home orders of the pandemic.
So it stands to reason that if the open roads created a false sense of security that caused more people to speed, other risky behaviors like texting while driving would have also increased. And once drivers let their guards down, they’re unlikely to go back to behaviors that reduce risk over the long term. Unless, of course, they’re in a crash or a near-miss as a result of their unsafe driving.
“Always On” Mentality
Another factor in the rise of distracted driving behaviors may be related to remote work. With more employees working from home during the pandemic, the lines between work and home are blurred. Many remote workers feel they must always be available to answer work-related calls and emails, no matter where they are. Therefore, more people are using their phones for these purposes while driving.
The survey results back up this idea: One in four respondents said they answer work-related calls and texts while driving. Reasons included:
- 46% said they think it might be an emergency.
- 29% said their supervisor would be upset if they don’t answer.
- 22% said they are unable to mentally shut off from work.
Stop Driving Distracted: What You Can Do
Pandemic or not, distracted driving is always a leading cause of car accidents. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month as designated by the National Safety Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That, combined with the results of the Travelers Risk Index survey, indicates now is the perfect time to stop distracted driving on every level.
Trends start with individuals, and all drivers can make a commitment to avoid driving while distracted. Here are some practical steps you can take:
- Turn on Do Not Disturb while driving mode on your phone. This will stop you from receiving notifications that tempt you to answer calls or texts while on the road.
- If you’re a passenger in a car with a driver who is using their phone, ask them to stop so they can focus on the road.
- If you have others in your vehicle, choose a passenger to be your “designated texter” and let them access your phone to respond to calls or messages.
- If you really need to send a text while driving, or enter an address in your GPS, pull over somewhere safe.
- Put your phone somewhere you cannot access it while driving, such as the trunk or backseat of your car.
- Distracted driving is most common among teens. Parents can lead by example by never driving distracted, and talking with their teens about the dangers.
- Employers should set a company policy on distracted driving, and supervisors should set an expectation that all work-related calls can wait.
- Take the pledge to drive phone-free and encourage loved ones to do the same.