Whether it’s on the way to-, from-, or for the purpose of work, reaching the destination safely involves the driver being focused on the task at hand: driving.

Over the past decade or so, distracted driving has emerged as a major public safety concern – as well it should. Distracted driving remains one of the main causes of transportation-related accidents. According to Distraction.gov, the federal government’s website on distracted driving, in 2013, 3,154 people in the U.S. were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. That’s a 6.7% decrease in the recorded number of fatalities from the previous year. However, approximately 3,000 more people were injured in 2013 compared to the 421,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, and the National Safety Council’s theme this year is “Take Back Your Drive.” One estimate by the NSC puts the number of crashes caused by cell phone use and texting while driving at 1.6 million each year. It’s easy to blame the devices themselves, but a growing body of research suggests that they are part of larger picture, one in which they are just another set of contributors to a state of mental distraction.

A newly published study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute seems to support this.1 In looking into which type of activity puts a driver at greater risk of being involved in a vehicle crash – a state of emotional agitation or performing activities such as using a hand-held cell phone – emotional agitation came out on top, researchers found. A person who is observably angry, sad, crying or emotionally agitated is almost 10 times more likely to experience a crash. The risk of a crash more than doubles when drivers perform activities that require them to take their eyes off the road, including reading emails or texts, or using a vehicle’s built-in touch screen.

Other research suggests that it isn’t the physical activity of operating a device (or devices) while driving that is the major cause for concern; rather, as some studies involving the use of hands-free cell phone use have shown, cognitive distraction caused by switching between language comprehension and processing the external cues needed to drive properly may be partly to blame.

It’s something to ponder – just maybe not when you’re behind the wheel.
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1. http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2016/02/022316-vtti-researchdistraction.html