Distracted Driving the New Drunk Driving

It is intuitively obvious to anyone who drives that other people using cell phones (not us, of course) are a menace to the public. We’ve seen them yakking away with the phone to their ear or, worse, actually texting with eyes on the phone. Indeed, a new study by Zendrive, a driving behavior analytics company, found that so-called “distracted” drivers are more dangerous than drunk drivers.

In Zendrive’s two previous studies, Virginia ranked in the middle of the pack among the 50 states for the prevalence of distracted driving: 24th place in 2017, and 26th place in 2018. Zendrive’s press release didn’t provide state rankings this year, but in a communication to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, CEO Jonathan Matus said Virginia ranks the worst. Drivers in all states became more distracted, but Virginia drivers apparently outpaced the rest, spending more than 9% of the time actively ignoring the road.

I find it strange that Virginia would zip to the very top of the list of worst drivers in a single year. Methinks that perhaps a change in Zendrive’s methodology — as well as real-world behavior — contributed to the shift. Whatever the case, there is no denying that distracted driving is a public-safety problem or that the practice has driven the increase in pedestrian and motorist fatalities.

Both the House of Delegates and the state Senate passed hands-free driving bills in the 2019 General Assembly session but failed to come to agreement on particulars. Perhaps the latest data will motivate them to work out their differences by next year.

As is so often the case, a minority of bad actors account for a disproportionate amount of the problem. Nationally, the number of “phone addicts” doubled last year, Zendrive found after analyzing data from 1.8 million drivers covering 4.5 billion miles of roads over three months. Addicts spend three times more drive time than other drivers using their phones; they actively ignore the road 28% of the time they are driving.

“Distracted driving has become this generation’s drunk driving,” Matus said. “In today’s culture, the ‘Phone Addict’ driver persona has become widespread and extremely dangerous.”