About a quarter of all crashes on Minnesota roads last year happened because drivers were distracted or not paying attention, according to officials with the Department of Public Safety. The main reasons: talking on the cell phone, text messaging, eating, or tuning the radio or digital music player.
In all, inattention or distraction caused nearly 19,000 of the 79,000 crashes in Minnesota in 2008, officials said.
"Driving itself is a multi-tasking activity -- checking mirrors, steering, managing gas/brakes, checking speed," Department of Public Safety Spokesman Nathan Bowie said. "Adding any distractions can take your mind and eyes off the road. This is especially dangerous as driving situation can change in an instant-- vehicles braking quickly, changing lanes, light changing."
Researchers and public officials, at both the state and national level, have long studied the safety risks posed by cellphone use and multitasking behind the wheel.
In 2003, researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decided not to make public hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of phones by drivers for fear of upsetting Congress, according a recent article in the New York Times.
On Tuesday, the research was finally made public. It revealed that, nationwide, in 2002, cellphone use by drivers caused slightly more than 950 fatalities and 240,000 accidents, according to the Times.
In Minnesota, a 2007 Department of Public Safety survey reported that about 16,000 motorists, or nearly 4.2 percent of all drivers, are on cell phones at any given daylight hour.
In 2008, distraction and inattention contributed to:
- 11 percent of all fatal crashes (65 fatal crashes resulting in 74 deaths);
- 20 percent of all injury crashes (6,300 resulting in 8,999 injuries);
- 20 percent of all property damage crashes (12,428).