Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, senior research associate for the Department of Psychology, explained the fundamentals and elements that lead up to the unfortunate event of a car accident from distracted driving. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Distracted driving continues to be a severe and ongoing issue, especially in high traffic areas like a college campus with constant construction, inattentive pedestrians and rush hour chaos.

However, there are more contributing factors to distracted driving than people realize, and Ohio State researchers are looking in to what can cause distracted driving.

Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, senior research associate for the Department of Psychology, explained the fundamentals and elements that lead up to the unfortunate event of a car accident.

While distracted driving is a possibility for anyone on the road, 18 to 25 year olds are heavily affected, Shoots-Reinhard said. This is due to smartphones becoming a part of everyday life within the past few years.

“Ever since there’s been cars there’s been distracted driving, but since 2013 with the adding of smartphones there’s this trend towards increased crashes and fatalities,” Shoots-Reinhard said.

She noted that older people who have not grown up using a cellphone might be less tempted to go on their phone in the car compared to younger drivers who have spent more time on the improved technology.

Even though it is constantly associated with cellphone use, there are many additional influences that take your focus off of the road, Shoots-Reinhard said.

“The legal definition is ‘any activity that detracts from the primary task of driving,’” Shoots-Reinhard said. “It’s usually defined as something that takes your eyes, your hands and your mind of off driving. So that can be cellphones for sure, but also other things like rubbernecking, talking to a passenger or eating.”

Shoots-Reinhard said there’s a common misconception that people think it’s acceptable to use their phones at stoplights and stop signs. However, in Ohio there’s a hands-free law that prohibits cellphone use at any time while behind the wheel.

She said that in Columbus, just messaging on a cellphone while driving is enough to be pulled over and ticketed.

“Your car is going to be in motion for a little bit, and that’s all it takes to hit a pedestrian or rear-end the car in front of you,” Shoots-Reinhard said.

Other than the people behind the wheel and on the road, a major contribution to the issue of distracted driving is the environment people drive in, Zhenhua Chen, assistant professor in city and regional planning, said.

“This is a complex issue involving a lot of stakeholders,” Chen said. “What we really wanted to know is what the distracted driving situation right now is. More importantly, how could we work together so that we can come back with these behaviors and increase roadway safety.”

Following a five-year analysis, crash records from the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety showed that distracted driving resulting in car crashes is more common in city areas such as Columbus, Chen said.

“Distracted driving related to crashes tend to have a higher frequency and tends to be more severe in certain road environments,” Chen said. “Especially in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland, distracted driving related to crashes frequency tends to be higher.”

Chen said there are many obstacles on the road that actually have an impact on decreasing distracted driving, such as roads with medians and roundabouts. In Ohio, research shows out of 1.4 million crashes, there have been no severe or fatal car crashes at roundabouts.

Shoots-Reinhard stressed that while many people don’t consider themselves distracted drivers, they still are, especially people using hands-free calling apps.

“A lot of people use hands-free for calling, and hands-free calling is not less dangerous than holding the phone in your hand. So if you are talking to someone on the phone, you are a distracted driver,” she said.

The best way to be a safe driver is to have a routine. That includes setting up your music, podcasts and GPS before you start the car, Shoots-Reinhard said.

“Have a routine, put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ and do all your messing with your phone before you go,” Shoots-Reinhard said.