IIHS: Use ‘Multifaceted Approach’ to Combat Distraction

A new study compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicated that a “multifaceted approach” that leverages enforcement efforts alongside public outreach efforts could buttress efforts to end distracted driving.

[Above photo via IIHS]

Along with strengthening laws and beefing up enforcement, the IIHS study recommended a focus on “leveraging friendships and family ties” to “inspire change,” as that would help make drivers more aware of how serious a threat distraction represents and offering solutions to the common barriers that prevent them from simply ignoring their phones.

Photo by IIHS

“It may come as a surprise, but many drivers still don’t realize how dangerous it is to check a text message or glance at their Instagram feed while they’re zipping along the road,” said IIHS Research Associate Aimee Cox, the lead author of the study, in a statement.

The study noted that police reports indicate that more than 3,000 people died in distraction-related crashes across the United States in 2020, accounting for 8 percent of all traffic-related fatalities. However, because it is “difficult to determine if distraction contributed to a crash,” IIHS said that number “is almost certainly an underestimate.”

Phone use is now so constant that around half of some 2,000 U.S. drivers surveyed by IIHS reported performing at least one device-based task on most or all drives over the past month.

Photo by IIHS

The problem of using apps enabled by smartphones is especially common among parents and drivers employed by app-based rideshare and delivery companies, an earlier analysis of the survey showed, IIHS noted.

In the current study, Cox said IIHS examined why some people are more likely than others to use their phones while driving and what might persuade them to stop.

Borrowing a behavior change theory called the “Health Belief Model” from the public health field, she developed around 60 questions designed to identify how strong a threat the participants perceived manipulating a mobile device while driving to be, the benefits they believed were associated with refraining from using their device, the barriers that prevent them from changing their behavior and the cues to action that might prompt them to do so.

“The Health Belief Model has been very useful in guiding disease-screening and immunization programs for many years,” Cox noted. “It can also be an effective way to better understand distracted driving — which is a public health issue of another kind.”

While she stressed that “conventional and practical policy interventions” such as stronger laws against distracted driving, increased enforcement, or camera-based ticketing “definitely have a big role to play” in reducing distracted driving, Cox emphasized that her study’s findings suggest that programs leveraging “interpersonal relationships” may also be effective.

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