Local News

Distracted Drivers Caught On Tape: Accidents Waiting To Happen

Posted August 5, 2003

— Are you on a "crash" diet -- one of the millions who eat breakfast, lunch or dinner behind the wheel?

It is a recipe for disaster. It also is one of many distractions that lead to thousands of traffic accidents every day.

Many people think it is "the other person" causing those wrecks -- until they are caught on tape.

You know those "other" drivers. They talk on the cell phone. They eat behind the wheel. They put on makeup in the rear-view mirror.

Researchers from AAA and the UNC

Highway Safety Research Center

caught Durham's Jane Darnell on film.

"I do put on a bit of lipstick, you know, before I get to someone's home," Darnell said.

In a week, with a hidden camera on board, Darnell committed a lot of no-no's.

"That is me?" she asked as she watched the tape. "Oh, good Lord."

Darnell's worst moment came when she was caught actually filing papers as she drove through Durham County.

"The car is actually moving, which really surprises me," she said.

"I thought I would glance down just to find an address. I would have sworn that I didn't do it with the car moving."

When asked if the tape will make her change any of her driving habits, Darnell said: "I hope so."

Researchers paid Darnell and 69 other drivers in the Triangle and Philadelphia to study driver distractions. Here's what they found to be the top distractions:

  • No. 1: Fiddling with the radio,
  • No. 2: Eating or drinking,
  • No. 3: Putting on makeup or grooming
  • Cell phone use, believe it or not, came in a distant fourth. Parents dealing with children in the car is another big distraction.

    According to the study, 30 percent of crashes are caused by distracted drivers.

    When asked if she saw anything she did that could have led to a wreck, Darnell said: "I think so. Definitely. The filing through the papers and looking for papers."

    The idea is to create driver awareness. It worked on Darnell.

    "Really watch what you are doing," she said. "Because if I hadn't seen it on tape, I would have totally denied what you caught me with."

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