Study suggests distraction is a serious issue for older drivers, too

A new study suggests that cell phone use isn’t just a problem among young drivers; a sizable proportion of older drivers also engage in this risky habit.

Distracted driving is often seen as a habit that is widespread among young people and especially risky for these novice drivers. As a result, distracted driving laws and safety campaigns often primarily target young people. Here in Georgia, for example, only drivers under age 18 are banned from using handheld cell phones. Unfortunately, though, new research suggests that distracted driving is also a common and potentially overlooked problem among older adults.

Troubling habits and beliefs

According to HealthDay, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, recently surveyed over 700 people about their driving habits. The respondents all were between ages 30 and 64, and each reported owning a cell phone and driving at least once weekly. The results were troubling, as the participants reported the following high rates of texting and distracted driving:

  • Over 30 percent of the respondents had sent texts while traveling at high speeds down highways.
  • Fifty-six percent of the drivers admitted to making cell phone calls while behind the wheel.
  • A significant 75 percent of the respondents reported making hands-free calls while driving.

The drivers' attitudes towards hands-free phones, which have been proven to be as distracting as handheld devices, were especially troubling. Less than 30 percent of the respondents knew that drivers making hands-free calls have the same crash risk as drunk drivers. Close to 90 percent of the drivers believed they were capable of operating their vehicles competently while making hands-free calls.

Potential solutions

The study found that the participants who reported distracted driving frequently cited workplace expectations as a motivating factor. Over one-third of these drivers felt obligated to use their cell phones while at the wheel in order to be accessible to supervisors or co-workers. This suggests that changes in workplace culture could help reduce distracted driving among adults.

The Washington Post notes that an increasing number of companies now discourage or ban employees from using cell phones while driving. The National Transportation Safety Board has also endorsed full bans on employee cell phone use. However, until such changes are implemented on a wider scale, many adults may still feel the need to use their phones while driving.

Legal options may be available

Unfortunately, distracted drivers of all ages appear to be taking a serious toll on public safety in Georgia. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that, as of Nov. 13, the total number of traffic deaths for 2015 had exceeded the number reported in 2014. This makes 2015 the first year in nearly a decade in which deadly auto accidents in Georgia have increased. Officials believe that distracted driving is at least partly responsible for this rise in accidents.

The victims of these distraction-related accidents, along with people who have lost loved ones in such accidents, may have legal recourse. Even distracted driving habits that are legal for most drivers, such as handheld cell phone use, may be considered negligent if they unnecessarily endanger others. For further information, victims may want to consider consulting with a distracted driving attorney.