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A follow-up to a seminal 2009 Virginia Tech study that showed distractions like taking a cell phone can take drivers’ eyes off the road for as long as 24 seconds has revealed that so-called “emotional driving” and speeding recklessly do the most to raise people’s risk for traffic accidents that result in significant property damage, personal injuries and wrongful deaths. Second Strategic Highway Research Program Naturalistic Driving Study published in late February 2016 detailed the causes of 905 major car crashes across the United States. The leading contributors to the wrecks were fatigue, error, impairment and distraction. Being angry, sad, crying, or emotionally agitated trailed only exceeding a posted speed limit by 20 miles per hour or greater as the most significant risk factor.

The information was gathered by placing cameras, sensors and radar beacons in volunteers’ cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks for at least 12 months, All the recording devices were placed out of drivers’ sight so the equipment itself would not constitute a distraction. Teens were shown to be particularly prone to driving while overly emotional and to engage in other unsafe behaviors behind the wheel.

The bottom line is that taking one’s mind off the task of driving is as dangerous as taking one’s eyes off the road. Becoming so upset that you cry actually clouds thinking and vision, so staying out the driver’s seat until your mood improves is the safest option.

Another major lesson to take from the study findings is that most of the top causes of wrecks in which people suffer injuries and get killed are preventable. No one needs to speed recklessly or drive drunk. And no one should.

My Virginia personal injury and wrongful death attorney colleagues and I have long known that anything that distracts a driver or limits reaction time puts everyone else on the road at risk. We have even spoken at area high schools about the needless risks young drivers take when they decide a text or call is more important than keeping their hands, eyes and minds on the traffic. With this research from Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute putting actual numbers on those dangers, we hope all drivers take the cue to focus on keeping themselves and others safe.


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