Local study reveals intriguing data on distracted driving

MEDFORD, Ore.– Police across Oregon and northern California are attempting to crack down on distracted driving. According to a Southern Oregon University study, the problem is an epidemic.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and it’s a meant to draw focus to a startling statistic. One out of every 12 serious injury crashes in Oregon is caused by distracted driving.

Now law enforcement agencies, ODOT and members of the distracted driving study want people to realize – just one second could change your life.

“We catch people every day that are on their phones,” said Officer Peter Bilden, Central Point Police Department.

It’s a common problem that many law enforcement agencies are aware of. For the Central Point Police Department, phones are the main distraction.

“The main thing we see is people looking down at their cell phones, if it’s texting or changing a song and taking their eyes off the road,” said Bilden. “We try to stop them and let them know that they need to put their phone down.”

But distracted driving is not caused just by phones. Dr. Donna Lane, a professor at SOU who oversaw the study on distracted driving pointed out there are many other distractions that fall under that category.

“It isn’t just the phone. It’s food, it’s putting your makeup on, reading a book, adjusting something, digging through your purse, trying to get your wallet out of your pocket,” she said. “All of those things.”

In that research, which was conducted by four graduate students, they made some interesting discoveries.

“Seventy-five percent of the respondents admitted driving distracted while they were alone. Fifty-seven percent said they drive with passengers in the car,” said Dr. Lane. “We didn’t specifically ask them if those passengers were their children, but a higher percentage of the respondents to this survey were parents.”

The 2016 study, which ODOT asked the school to do, also looked into why so many people were being distracted – especially by their phones.

“One was busy lifestyle,” said Dr. Lane. “That they felt they needed to multi-task, that they couldn’t just be sitting in a car when a phone was so accessible to get so many other things done as well.”

While the study was extensive, a few solutions such as public service announcements and higher fines were recommended. But there are some simple things people can do outside of that to stay safe.

“Phones down while their driving, keep their eyes on the road,” said Officer Bilden. “Hopefully this month will bring more awareness to it.”

The research group, police and transportation officials are all hoping that something will be done to put an end to the alarming numbers.

“From the people I’ve talked with I think there is becoming a shift and it’s all about behavior,” said Dr. Lane. “So adjusting that behavior, I think it is shifting.”

ODOT would like to remind everyone that April 9 – 13 is National Work Zone Safety Awareness week and to be cautious when driving through congested areas.

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