Known safety risks not enough to stop drivers from multitasking

With much of the nation preoccupied with smartphones and the latest text, a large percentage of Americans still aren't getting the most important message of all, a newly released poll indicates.

Even though virtually everyone understands that texting and driving is dangerous, it hasn't served as an effective deterrent to multitasking when on the roads. Approximately 60% of motorists admit to having driven in a distracted state, even though they're well aware of the risks they're taking by doing so, not to mention that there are laws that ban the practice, according to a recent survey conducted by vehicle valuation firm Kelley Blue Book.

With April being Distracted Driving Awareness Month, KBB.com surveyed approximately 2,000 residents from around the country, all being no younger than 15 years of age. While multitasking can come in many different forms, the most common reported was cell phone use, followed by navigation system adjustment and texting.

Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for the Irvine, California-based online car information firm, noted how technology in general is all too often diverting motorists' attention from the road in front of them.

"We all know that texting while driving is a serious distraction, but it isn't the only reason drivers are taking their eyes off the roads," Nerad explained. "With the increase of in-car technology, there are more distractions vying for a driver's attention. Whether it is in-dash navigation, music apps or voice command call or text, more and more drivers are multitasking behind the wheel as opposed to focusing on the road."

25% of accidents related to multitasking, NHTSA says

It's estimated that 1 in 4 accidents are attributable to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Two years ago, 3,179 people died in car accidents where multitasking was the causal factor, based on the most recently available government data. Additionally, over 431,000 people were injured.

Anthony Foxx, secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation, noted how instant access has fueled the distracted driving crisis.

"Scrolling through song lists on a cell phone, or texting while driving is not just irresponsible, it can have tragic consequences," Foxx warned. "We're calling on drivers to put down their devices and help keep the roadways safe for all Americans."

Disabling apps widely considered effective deterrent

Public awareness campaigns, financial penalties, and compelling studies have served as a few of the ways safety officials have tried to make distracted driving history. Technology development has had a hand in it as well, as several apps can be downloaded that disable smartphones when owners are at the wheel. Nearly two-thirds of respondents in the KBB.com poll said apps that render smartphones inoperable are the most effective way to curb multitasking. Increasing traffic enforcement presence was also viewed as a useful strategy.

Ultimately, though, it's drivers themselves who need to take ownership and stay off their phones when they're piloting a vehicle – both for their own safety, their passengers as well as fellow commuters. Before the month ends, consider checking out Distraction.gov and take the pledge. The NHTSA-operated website also has testimonials of families whose lives were forever when loved ones engaged in the risky practice.