This is probably hard to believe, but it appears that texting is not actually one of the most common causes of distracted driving on Arizona highways.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety this week released statistics on distracted driving that the agency has been compiling all year, as part of an enforcement campaign focusing on distracted drivers. In both distracted-driving-related traffic stops and collisions, texting was just the seventh-most common distraction.
However, other cell phone use was the top cause of traffic stops related to distracted driving, so people on Twitter or Facebook instead of texting could have helped inflate those numbers.
"We all know that these devices are basically mobile computers . . . so there's a lot more going on," DPS spokesman Raul Garcia tells New Times.
From the beginning of the year from mid-September, DPS officers made more than 300,000 traffic stops, and nearly 20,000 of those were for "distracted driving behavior."
Cell phone use (not texting) was the top cause, "occupant related issues" was a close second, and outside distractions was third. The rest of the distractions, in order, were uses of other electronic media, eating or drinking, on-board equipment, texting, reaching for objects, pets, smoking or tobacco use, reading and grooming or makeup.
The most common age range of people found to be texting and driving was 21-25, while 26- to 30-year-olds were most commonly busted for other cell phone use. The age range found to be most distracted by other occupants was again the 21- to 25-year-olds.
There were also 2,400 highway crashes DPS officers attributed to distracted driving, but cell phone use was the third-biggest culprit in collisions. Outside distractions was number one, followed by reaching for objects. The lesser-cited distractions, in order, were issues involving other occupants, use of other electronic media (Garcia says this included things like GPS units or Kindles), eating or drinking, texting, pets, reading, grooming and makeup, and smoking or tobacco use.
"There are folks out there who are completely disconnecting from what they're doing," Garcia says.
Although the specific act of texting doesn't seem to be the biggest culprit, it seems that there's been more of a focus on texting while driving than any other distractions. If you watch TV, you've likely seen any number of PSAs aimed at texting and driving. In less than ten years, nearly every state has adopted some sort of texting-while-driving ban, but Arizona's one of the very few that has not.
A similar set of national distracted-driver data shows similar findings to DPS' stats. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data from 2010 to 2011 (but released last year) showed that being generally distracted or "lost in thought" was the top reason for fatal crashes involving distracted driving, at 62 percent. Cell phone use, including talking, listening, texting, or dialing, combined for just 12 percent -- texting wasn't isolated from other cell phone use.
Garcia says DPS is going to continue tracking distracted driving, and use that information for things like driver-education campaigns.
Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.