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Survey: Majority of Central Iowans distracted on the road — and it’s killing us

Distracted driving may be even more rampant than we realized in Greater Des Moines, according to data from a recent survey by the Travelers Institute. And that’s a risky business that’s leading to record high fatalities. 

Among 500 Iowans surveyed in eight Central Iowa counties, 75% of respondents said they use a mobile device while driving for calls or apps, compared with 68% of drivers who admitted to the same behavior in the national 2019 Travelers Risk Index report. Among those drivers, people may be texting, scrolling through podcasts or even — yikes — shopping online. 

Nationally, 36,750 Americans died on U.S. roads last year, with distracted driving a contributing factor in many crashes, according to the institute. 

This evening, the Travelers Institute will host a panel discussion at Drake University aimed at raising awareness about the risks and consequences of distracted driving. A goal of the event, part of the institute’s Every Second Matters campaign, is to empower community members, including professionals from the public and private sectors as well as students, to combat this dangerous behavior. 

Nationally, deaths linked to distracted driving in the United States are at a 50-year high, which prompted the Travelers Institute, a public policy arm of the Travelers Cos., to launch a national public awareness campaign two years ago as its highest priority, said Joan Woodward, the institute’s president. Woodward will be in Des Moines tonight to moderate a panel at the Drake event. 

“We saw in our own data the frequency and severity of crashes and fatalities,” Woodward said. “We felt distractions were a major factor in fatalities that we were seeing nationwide.”  

The survey identified specific ways that drivers in Greater Des Moines are using mobile devices while behind the wheel, which included:

  • Reading a text message or email (48%).
  • Searching for, selecting or scrolling through music or podcasts on a smartphone (37%).
  • Recording videos or taking photos using a smartphone (19%).
  • Shopping online (10%).

Through the Every Second Matters campaign and symposium, the institute seeks to explore reasons behind distracted driving behaviors and highlight different approaches to helping end the epidemic. 

Business leaders and owners have a large part to play in the campaign to reduce distracted driving, Woodward said. 

“We’ve found in our national surveys that people feel really compelled to answer that call or text from their boss,” she said. “If businesses make this a top priority, crashes and lost time from accidents will go down.” 

The Every Second Matters campaign encourages businesses to establish a strict no-phone-while-driving policy and to have their employees sign a pledge to not use their devices while driving. Business leaders need to clearly communicate the policies and lead by example to help change behaviors. 

Woodward said seats are still available at tonight’s symposium at Drake, which begins with networking and registration at 4:30 p.m. For more information, click here.

Organizations can also download a free “Conversation Starter” white paper from the Travelers Institute for guidelines on establishing policies to address distracted driving. 

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