Ohio State Researchers Find Road Design Changes Can Reduce Distracted Driving Crashes

Columbus, Ohio (Nov. 19, 2018) – While efforts to combat distracted driving have primarily focused on passing new laws and changing driver behaviors, a new study from The Ohio State University’s Risk Institute reveals the important impact that modifying road design can have on reducing the frequency and severity of distracted driving crashes.

Researchers Zhenhua Chen and Youngbin Lym, assistant professor and his PhD student, in city and regional planning at The Ohio State University, found a 35 percent increase in distracted driver fatalities in Ohio and a 23 percent increase in serious injuries for the period 2003-2013. Additionally, distracted driving crashes were more severe in some road environments, such as work zones where they were up to two times more likely to be fatal.

This research found that urbanized areas such as Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati had much higher risk in vehicle crashes than other regions in Ohio. Even the length of a roadway segment or number of lanes had an impact on the frequency of distracted driving crashes. On the other hand, roundabouts had a significant effect on reducing the severity of distracted driving-related crashes. Other road environments that have a median or a shoulder with an asphalt pavement were also found to have fewer distracted driving crashes.

“This study helps to highlight that there is a need to improve traffic safety and road management,” said Phil Renaud, executive director of The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. “It provides new evidence that supports taking steps to improve traffic signs and safety regulations for distracted driving in specific areas. There are things we can do on a local, city level to lower crash frequencies and severities.”

Key findings also include:

  • Distracted driving-related crashes account for approximately 18 percent of overall Ohio crash fatalities and 16 percent of Ohio serious injuries.
  • Distracted driving-related crashes are up to 49 percent more severe when they occur on a highway system.
  • The risk of vehicle crashes due to distracted driving is found to be highest in the Columbus area.
  • Distracted driving crashes are 5-10 times more likely to be fatal than severe in a rear end and or angle crash.
  • Roundabouts were found to be the single most effective road design in reducing the rate of crashes and crash severity. Overall, within the data (2013-2017) there were no fatal crashes within roundabouts.

The increase in distracted driving-related crashes in Ohio has become a major concern to various stakeholders, including insurance companies, transportation planners and policymakers. To help address this problem, which is so costly in terms of lives, medical bills, car repairs and insurance costs, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) funded The Risk Institute’s study and is working to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.

“Those of us in the insurance industry hear far too many stories of how families are devastated because someone was texting behind the wheel,” said Bob Passmore, assistant vice president for PCI. “This research confirms some of the trends we have seen in auto insurance claims. Congested, urban roadways, infrastructure challenges along with the ubiquitous use of electronic devices combine to create hazardous driving conditions. As we have seen with other motor safety issues such as seatbelt use and drunk driving, there is no single answer to addressing the problem of distracted driving. It takes a coordinated strategy combining the enactment of laws, strong enforcement, drivers taking personal responsibility to avoid distractions and improvements in transportation infrastructure design.”

About the Risk Institute

The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business is a collection of forward-thinking companies and academics that provide effective risk management strategies to not only protect firms, but position firms to create growth and value. The Risk Institute helps members consider risk from all perspectives: legal, operational, strategic, reputational, talent, financial and many more. The Risk Institute operates at a unique intersection between faculty, students and professionals from a broad cross-section of industries. With a leading-edge approach to risk management, The Risk Institute creates a unique exchange for risk-centered conversations, ideas and strategies that can’t happen anywhere else.

About PCI
PCI promotes and protects the viability of a competitive private insurance market for the benefit of consumers and insurers. PCI is composed of approximately 1,000 member companies and 340 insurance groups, representing the broadest cross section of home, auto, and business insurers of any national trade association. PCI members represent all sizes, structures, and regions, which protect families, communities, and businesses in the U.S. and across the globe. PCI members write $245 billion in annual premium, which is 38 percent of the nation’s property casualty insurance marketplace.

3 thoughts on “Ohio State Researchers Find Road Design Changes Can Reduce Distracted Driving Crashes

  1. I found this article very interesting, especially about the roundabouts. I know many that hate them, but I think that is more that they were never taught how to navigate them and in a matter of 10 years we went from having almost none to them popping up everywhere. I do think that AAA, local TV, BMV, should put out PSAs and pamphlets on roundabout navigation and it should be in all Driver’s Ed classes going forward.

  2. New laws and new road designs may help somewhat, but what is really lacking from the equation is strict enforcement of existing laws. I’ve been driving since the mid-70’s and used to see a lot of traffic enforcement by the various agencies which kept things fairly civil on the roadways. These days one rarely sees any enforcement, except by the Highway Patrol. In many cases I’ve seen infractions occur in front of police cruisers and they just wag their heads and drive on by. It’s no wonder that many drivers ignore traffic laws and safety. They just keep pushing the envelope in this regard. I see multiple times each day, drivers with their heads buried in their phones and it does not seem to be improving; in fact it seems it is becoming a more frequent occurrence. Strict enforcement and laws with increased penalties will have the most positive affect in this regard. Take for example, the towns of New Rome and Valleyview. For those of you who remember them, they had a reputation (aside from the corruption in New Rome) for very strict enforcement of their traffic laws. People knew when they drove in those jurisdictions that if they broke the law, the WOULD get a ticket; no leniency. Yes, people bad-mouthed them and had pet names for those towns/officers; but guess what, they didn’t break any traffic laws either. Rules and laws only work when they are enforced.

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