DISTRACTED DRIVING DURING THE PANDEMIC

Updated: Sep 15

By Maria Sassian, iii.org

(Photo by Getty Images)

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Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on mobile devices, eating, and talking with passengers, are a major safety threat.


During the pandemic, while overall driving decreased, unsafe behavior by drivers rose in an alarming way. Motor vehicle deaths were up 8 percent in 2020 from the prior year – the highest percentage increase in 13 years, according to the National Safety Council.


Perhaps unaware of the danger, one in four drivers thinks roads are safer today than they were before the pandemic, yet a growing number of people reported using their mobile devices in unsafe ways while driving, according to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving.


The study found increases in the following behaviors:

  • Texting or emailing (26 percent, up from 19 percent pre-pandemic).

  • Checking social media (20 percent, up from 13 percent pre-pandemic).

  • Taking videos and pictures (19 percent, up from 10 percent pre-pandemic).

  • Shopping online (17 percent, up from 8 percent pre-pandemic).

“Traffic volumes were lower during the early days of the pandemic, which may have given drivers a false sense of security,” said Chris Hayes, Second Vice President of Workers Compensation and Transportation, Risk Control, at Travelers. “Not only did distracted driving increase, data from our telematics product IntelliDrive shows that speeding also became more prevalent. As travel restrictions are lifted around the country, it’s critical to slow down and stay focused on the road by eliminating distractions.”


Travelers’ findings suggest that many people may be feeling increased pressure to always be available for their jobs. This year, 48 percent of business managers said they expect employees to respond frequently to work-related calls, texts or emails, compared to 43 percent pre-pandemic. One in four respondents said they answer work-related calls and texts while behind the wheel, citing the following reasons:

  • 46 percent said they think it might be an emergency.

  • 29 percent said their supervisor would be upset if they don’t answer.

  • 22 percent said they are unable to mentally shut off from work.

Yet, a higher number of employers are concerned about liability from distracted driving. More than one-quarter (27 percent) indicated that they worry a great deal about their liability should an employee be involved in a crash because of distracted driving, up from 21 percent pre-pandemic.


April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Here are a few resources to help reduce preventable crashes and keep everyone safe on the road:


Travelers Distracted Driving Prevention MaterialsNational Safety CouncilNational Highway Traffic Safety AdministrationOSHA Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes


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