- Distracted driving amongst the top causes of road fatalities
- Every second car-driver commits cellphone violations
- 74 percent of the respondents feel distracted by modern technology
JOHANNESBURG – December 12, 2016 – This festive season South African road users need to be more cautious to avoid fatalities. According to the transport department, a total of 1,755 people lost their lives between December 1 2015 and January 11 2016 alone. Until recently, driving under the influence of alcohol was deemed the highest cause of accidents. However texting while driving and not wearing a seatbelt were noted as major concerns in the previous season.
In the modern world of technology, distractions due to cellphones and navigation systems have to be considered more dangerous. This is based on Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) study, which surveyed 1600 car-drivers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The study shows that the risk of an accident increases significantly when drivers focus more on technical devices and less on the road. For the first time, the study establishes a statistical correlation between many of today’s information, communication and entertainment functions in the car and higher accident rates. As such, 60 percent of drivers who had accidents in past three years report using their cell phones manually while driving.
Furthermore, 3500 road users died on German roads last year. Over seven percent (256) of those who died were involved in an accident with someone under the influence of alcohol. However, a considerably larger number of people (approximately 350) died in accidents caused by distractions.
“This result does not come as a surprise to us,” says Delphine Maïdou, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) Africa CEO and President of the Insurance Institute of South Africa (IISA). “The more varied the technology and the more complicated its operation, the greater the distraction from road traffic and the more dangerous the driver is.”
Half of all drivers are on the phone while driving
According to the Allianz study, every second driver commits cellphone violations (46 percent), and approximately three quarters of the respondents report being regularly distracted by the use of built-in technical devices in the vehicle (74 percent). THIRTY-NINE percent of respondents operate the navigation system while driving, and 58 percent use the radio function via the dashboard menu.
FIFTEEN percent of all drivers type text messages and almost every fourth (24 percent) read them using their smart phone. Amongst the participants up to 24 years of age, this proportion is significantly higher as 23 percent of the respondents in this age group type text messages while driving and 27 percent read them. TWENTY-NINE percent (of all ages) report checking their cellphones to see who has contacted them. Notably 52 percent of drivers are distracted by passengers that make telephone calls.
Distractions are as challenging as alcohol
Historically, in South Africa, the major cause for road accidents was driving under alcohol influence, and the government focused most of their efforts on drinking and driving. This is still a major concern as statistics show that in 2014/2015 approximately 13 273 people died on the roads, and 58 percent of these deaths are alcohol related. However, alcohol is amongst three of the biggest causes of road accidents including speeding and distracted driving.
Although South Africa has made strides in reducing road fatalities, it still has one of the highest car accidents in the world, of which 25 percent of those accidents are caused by the use of mobile phones. The country is amongst the worst for texting while driving which contributes to distracted driving being an epidemic sweeping the roads. And although the use of mobile devices while driving is prohibited and against the law, local authorities are still taking distracted driving less seriously whilst it is receiving much attention internationally.
Distractions while driving are one of the central causes of accidents on the road, as is reflected by international accident data. As early as in 2011, the first Allianz study on distractions established that around 10 percent of all accidents were caused by the driver’s attention being drawn away from the task of driving. For up to one third of accidents, distractions are to be deemed as a contributory factor. The main dangers posed by distractions include impaired fields of vision, increased reaction times and failures to notice critical events.
This year, Allianz took a close look at the issue once again within the scope of a road-safety study which focused on distractions caused by the use of smart phones and other electronic devices, as well as by the social interactions between the passengers in the car during the drive.
The study shows that the number of risks posed by distractions which are caused by using new forms of technology is on the rise. The accident figures due to distractions have remained at an alarming level for the past five years: Distractions double the risk of an accident, and every tenth fatal traffic accident involves some form of distraction – more frequently that the influence of alcohol (7.4 percent).
Allianz driver distraction study 2016
The study is based on a representative interview survey of 1,600 car-drivers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It establishes the connection between the conduct of the drivers in relation to distractions, and their annual mileage and (self-reported) accidents, according to age and gender. Allianz analyzed a total of 44 sources of distraction in three areas: technology, social interaction and “others”, such as eating/drinking or smoking while driving.
An in-depth study of very severe car damage conducted by Allianz shows that distractions lead to longitudinal traffic accidents (46 percent) especially frequently. One third of distraction-related very severe accidents took place at night/dusk, three quarters outside urban areas. In three quarters of the accidents analyzed, men were at the wheel.
According to the results of all the accident-risk assessments conducted by the new Allianz study, the group most vulnerable to distractions while driving is, by far, male drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 years.
With more technology come more distractions Basically, more technology in the vehicle also means increasing preoccupation with the devices and diversion from driving. Accidents are often caused while the driver is using the telephone, in particular, as well as operating the navigation system or on-board computer.
According to the study, an aggregated 47 percent of all car-drivers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland use their cell phones in some form or another while driving by holding it in their hands. 51 percent make calls, 40 percent operate their navigation system, 18 percent read text messages and 10 percent write text messages while driving (with respect to all cellphone owners – who constitute 90 percent of all drivers). Regarding the group of smartphone users (more than 60 percent), these figures are even higher: 25 percent read and 15 percent write text messages while at the wheel.
According to their own statements, 59 percent of the drivers now have a hands-free set, which, however, does not necessarily have to lead to a reduction in the risk of distractions. This is due to the fact that, on the average, users of hands-free sets use the phone for longer periods of time, which means that their attention is also impaired for longer. On the other hand, many drivers use their phone by holding it in their hands – despite having a hands-free set.
In addition to technology, social interaction is another serious disruptive factor which is often underestimated. Intense conversations (reported by 66 percent of the drivers as being distracting) as well other passengers who make calls or surf the web divert attention away from driving. Similarly, arguments or aggression in the car can increase the risk of accidents (reported by 36 percent). As can kissing (9 percent), by the way (all figures aggregated for Germany, Austria and Switzerland).
Comparison by country: Germany, Austria, Switzerland
Austria’s drivers use technical devices while driving significantly more often than the Germans or Swiss. This is, in part, also a consequence of higher levels of equipment, such as with smart phones, which have a negative impact on accident rates.
As such, according to the study, 65 percent of the Austrians make calls while driving compared to 49 percent of the Germans and “only” 45 percent of the Swiss. The use of navigation systems and networked music-playback technology is also higher in Austria than in both its neighboring countries.
The graph shows: Many of the typical sources of distraction mean a higher mileage-related accident rate (values below or equal to 0.05 confirm the significant relations).
Solutions for the reduction of driver distractions
Distractions are acknowledged as being the second-highest accident risk. But although media focus on the risk of distractions has grown over the last few years, very few drivers have actually changed their behavior. As such, there is no reason to give the all-clear – on the contrary.
Based on the findings of the current study, Allianz recommends harmonizing the methods of accident statistics in Europe, as well as a prompt introduction of distraction as a parameter in the German statistical list of accident causes, as is already the case in Austria and Switzerland.
Allianz also calls for technical solutions in order to improve road safety. The most pressing need would be to equip cars with driving assistance systems as standard, which would make the longitudinal control of the vehicle safer: above all, lane-keeping and emergency braking.
In addition, harmonization of vehicle operating functions and improvement to the ergonomic design of technical devices would be desirable in order to lower distractions while driving. However, in order to cut the accident risk posed by distractions in the long term, measures in the form of campaigns and penalties in the event of violations are called for in particular.