Caution! Study finds distracted drivers 29 times more at risk in work zone

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Attempting to multitask while driving is absolutely never a good idea. That being said, highway work zone fines for speeding and other unsafe driving practices are doubled in most areas of the country for a reason. Work zone collisions are inherently high risk, and occur once every 5.4 seconds in the United States. Now, A study by researchers at the University of Missouri finds that distracted drivers are 29 times more likely to cause or almost cause a collision in these work zones.

For the purposes of the study, “distracted” was defined as using a cell phone for any use while driving, or focusing attention on a passenger instead of the road.

“Prior to our study, researchers analyzed data on work zone safety by looking at one checkbox among 70-80 different fields on a police officer’s crash report to see if the crash occurred inside a work zone,” explains lead author Praveen Edara in a release. “Unfortunately, crash reports do not include detailed information about driver behavior prior to a crash. What’s unique about our research project is that we used naturalistic driving study data that provides information about how driver, vehicle, roadway and environmental factors contribute to a crash. In other words, we reconstructed a driver’s actions and the surrounding environment prior to the crash from a firsthand account.”

Edara and his team used data collected between 2006 and 2015 by the Transportation Research Board on more than 3,000 drivers traveling over 50 million miles. Using this data, researchers analyzed how drivers interact with their vehicles, roadways, and the surrounding environment.

“Prior to this study, we knew that narrow lanes in work zones are less safe than wider lanes and similarly, speeding in work zones is correlated with injury severity,” Edara says. “With this unique data set, it also allows us to see the responsibility the driver has in increasing work zone safety.”

The study’s authors hope that their findings will assist both state and federal highway authorities as they continue to implement countermeasures against reckless driving in highway work zones. Researchers recommend more extensive public education and laws that would ban texting while driving. Additionally, Edara believes the study’s results should also be considered by driverless car manufacturers.

The study is published in the Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board.

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Ben Renner

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