Drivers who are angry, sad, crying or otherwise emotionally upset increase their risk of crashing nearly 10 times — more than motorists using a cellphone — according to a recently published scientific paper.
The study found that drivers more than double their risk of crashing when they are distracted by cellphone or touchscreen use, or by other activities that force them to take their eyes off the road.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were uncovered by researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which described the study in a news release Tuesday.
Drivers engage in distracting activity more than half of their time on the road, according to the release.
"These findings are important because we see a younger population of drivers, particularly teens, who are more prone to engaging in distracting activities while driving," said lead study author Tom Dingus, who is director of the institute in Blacksburg, Virginia. "Our analysis shows that, if we take no steps in the near future to limit the number of distracting activities in a vehicle, those who represent the next generation of drivers will only continue to be at greater risk of a crash."
Researchers examined data from the largest-ever “light-vehicle naturalistic driving study,” which included more than 3,500 participants and 1,600 crashes of varying severity. They focused on 905 of the higher-severity crashes — those involving injury or property damage.
Driver-related factors, including distraction, fatigue, impairment and errors such as improper braking, were present in nearly 90 percent of those crashes.
Almost three-quarters of crashes involved an error, and drivers who crashed were distracted 68 percent of the time, U.S. News and World Report reported, citing the study.
“The results show that crash causation has shifted dramatically in recent years, with driver-related factors present in almost 90% of crashes,” the abstract for the paper states. “The results also definitively show that distraction is detrimental to driver safety, with handheld electronic devices having high use rates and risk.”
The application of makeup and following a vehicle too closely were minimally present or not present at all in the crashes. Those factors had previously been thought to increase crash risk.
Interacting with a child in the rear seat actually showed a reduced crash risk.