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Study shines light on many sources of dumb distractions

In our April 5 post, we offered up some sobering news about injuries related to distracted driving in Louisiana. As part of our effort to acknowledge Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we observed that researchers at Louisiana State University have already recorded 324 crashes in the state due to distraction by electronic devices since the first of the year. And of those, 150 resulted in injuries.

As anyone who drives knows well, sources of distraction are quite literally everywhere. The one we hear about the most often these days involves texting while driving. But the truth is that we are peppered with distractions. Accidents that leave victims seriously injured or dead are often the result. Where negligence is in evidence, the right for victims to seek compensation exists.

That there are distractions for drivers is nothing new. Ever since the bench seats in flivvers had room for two there was distraction. In the more than 100 years since, things have only gotten worse -- to a point where today researchers say drivers engage in distracting activities nearly half the time they are behind the wheel.

That's the conclusion of a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Based on the methods they used, the data seems to be hard to refute. What they did was install cameras, sensors and radar to track some 1,600 drivers. They did this for up to two years and for more than 35 million miles of travel. The tracking equipment was in place for so long that drivers basically forgot it was there, making the results more reliable.

At the end of the study period the VTTI team reported 1,600 crashes. The severity of the accidents ran the gamut from curb strikes to those that caused injury. In nine of 10 instances there was evidence of fatigue, driver error, impaired driving and distraction.

The risk of an accident doubled for drivers who took their eyes from the road for any reason whatever: to text, to use a handheld cellphone, read, write or access a touch screen.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, apparently so does the risk of accidents. Is it possible that the spiral will only stop once we are all in autonomous vehicles?

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