Corridor experts work to decrease distract driving car crashes

Phones are only one of many driving distractions that cause car accidents.

The Iowa DOT says a preliminary report shows distracted driving contributed to 1,207 car crashes last year. That number is lower than in 2016, when the Iowa DOT report showed there were 1,231 car crashes as a result of distracted driving.

"Distracted driving is anything that takes your eyes or your mind off the road,” said Chris Schwarz, an Associate Research Engineer at the National Advanced Driving Simulator Center in Coralville.

At the center, Schwarz and other researchers study anything that could serve as a distraction to drivers on the road.

"Using your phone can be distracting. Even having a conversation could be distracting. Eating while driving could be distracting,” explained Schwarz.

Researchers note anything that takes your mind off the road for even the shortest amount of time is technically a distraction. They cite activities like putting on making up, watching videos, and talking to passengers as distractions that could end up causing car crashes.

"You don't realize how fast you're going and how much ground you're covering,” said Schwarz. He says anyone driving 55 mph could travel to about 200 feet in only two seconds. According to him, just looking down at a phone for that amount of time could cause a serious accident.

"Since cellphones have really risen in popularity we see a great uptick in the number of crashes, especially the number of fatal crashes that are caused,” said Cathy Cutler, the Transportation Planner at the Iowa DOT’s District 6 Office.

Cell phone use does play a role in car crashes, but thanks to a 2017 Iowa law banning texting while driving--Cedar Rapids has seen a positive change. According to the numbers from 2016 provided by the City of Cedar Rapids, devices were listed as a contributing factor to 27 crashes. In 2017, that number fell to 18.

"One thing that we like are the cell phones that have the ‘do not disturb while I’m driving’ that you can set so it knows when you're going down the road," said Cutler.

The Iowa DOT says it's best for people to place all distractions away before getting behind the wheel. In addition to physical distractions, experts say road conditions and weather can play roles of their own.

While weather conditions can't always be avoided, driving without distractions can go a long way in keeping everyone safe on the road.

"The only way we're going to get towards that zero fatality is for everybody to cooperate,” said Cutler.

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