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Increase in Distracted Driving an Unexpected Side Effect of Pandemic When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, it altered daily life for many Americans, at least temporarily. Throughout the month of March, numerous schools and businesses closed their doors, sending students and employees home to study and work remotely in an effort to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

With so many people across the country working remotely, the heavy traffic typically seen during the morning and evening rush hours decreased dramatically. In addition to working from home, the temporary closure of indoor dining rooms at restaurants and of movie theaters and other non-essential retail and entertainment businesses, left many people with little choice but to stay home. The result, of course, was fewer vehicles on the roads.

This trend continued for months, as some parts of the country maintained strict regulations as they grappled with large outbreaks of the virus. It would seem that having significantly fewer cars on the road each day would make America’s streets and highways safer.

Not so, according to the Travelers Companies, Inc. The results of the insurance giant’s 2021 Travelers Risk Index show that the lack of cars on the road actually led to a disturbing increase in distracted driving among motorists surveyed.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration bears this out, showing a more than 7% increase in fatalities on American roads in 2020 over the previous year.

A disturbing trend

For the 2021 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving, the company questioned more than 1,000 consumers and business managers nationwide regarding their perceptions of risk in their daily lives. The overall response was concerning. While one in four drivers stated that they believe the roads are safer now than before the pandemic, a growing number of respondents also admitted to engaging in unsafe activities while driving.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, those unsafe activities largely involved the use of mobile devices while the motorist was driving. Those activities included:

  • Texting or emailing – There is little surprise here, as texting and emailing are among the most common, and most dangerous, distractions for drivers. Per the 2021 Travelers Risk Index, this habit increased to 26% – up from 19% pre-pandemic.

Advances in technology coupled with the increase in remote working may have left employees feeling pressured to be available for their jobs at all times. In a concerning trend, one in four respondents admitted to answering work-related calls and texts while driving. While 46% said they do so because it might be an emergency, 29% cited concern that they might upset their supervisor as the reason they respond to calls or texts while behind the wheel. And 22% of respondents said they are unable to mentally shut off from work.

  • Checking social media – It seems an increasing number of motorists find the siren song of social media too tempting to resist even while driving. According to the survey, the number of drivers who admitted to using social media platforms such as Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook and Twitter while driving increased by 7 percentage points, up from 13% before the pandemic to 20%.
  • Taking videos and photos – The responses to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index did not paint a pretty picture regarding the number of motorists who consider it acceptable to take video or photos while driving. The number of respondents who admitted to this dangerous practice nearly doubled, from 10% pre-pandemic to 19%.
  • Shopping online – As crazy as it sounds, the percentage of respondents who admitted to shopping online while operating a motor vehicle more than doubled according to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index, shooting up to 17% from an already unacceptable pre-pandemic 8%.

These risky behaviors involving mobile phones and other devices can have deadly consequences. A driver who takes their eyes off the road or their hands off the wheel – or both – for even a moment may cause a traffic accident that results in serious injuries or even death. Distracted driving puts drivers, passengers, other motorists, and pedestrians at risk.

Distracted driving is an ongoing problem in the United States

While responses to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index showed a marked increase in the use of mobile devices while driving, the survey results also made it clear that distracted driving has increased across the board. This uptick in distracted driving is part of a continuing trend in the U.S. For years, America has had a problem with distracted driving. It is especially prevalent among younger drivers aged 15 to 19, particularly when it involves the use of a mobile phone while driving. However, drivers of all ages are guilty of distracted driving.

Distracted driving includes any action that takes the driver’s attention away from the road. This includes talking with passengers, changing the radio station, eating food, applying makeup or performing other acts related to personal grooming. Even something as seemingly innocuous as adjusting one’s mirrors can be considered a dangerous distraction, as it requires the driver to take their eyes off the road and at least one hand off the steering wheel. Added to that, the driver must focus on finding the correct position of the mirror or mirrors, splitting their attention between that task and what is currently happening on the road.

The increase in all manner of activities that can distract a driver from the task at-hand can also be seen in the 2021 Travelers Risk Index results.

What does the increase in distracted driving mean for motorists?

Any time a driver gets behind the wheel or a passenger hops into a vehicle, there is risk involved. But distracted driving increases that risk unnecessarily for everyone involved. Even people walking or biking nearby are not safe when a motorist engages in any activity that distracts them from driving. The result can be car accidents that cause serious injuries or even fatalities. Focusing on the road while driving – and being a considerate passenger who respects the driver’s need to do so – helps decrease this risk substantially.

Unfortunately, not all motorists heed this advice. If you were injured in a car accident caused by a driver who was using their mobile device or who was otherwise distracted, Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law can help. Our experienced traffic accident attorneys provide compassionate, comprehensive legal representation to clients throughout Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, as well as North Georgia and the surrounding counties. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, please call us at 423-756-7923 or complete our contact form.