Virginia Survey Reveals Dangerous Behavior in Construction Zones

May 21, 2013

Transurban-Fluor and AAA Mid-Atlantic have published an alarming report on distracted driving on I-95 in Northern Virginia. The two bodies have launched a regional campaign focused on reducing distracted driving in the 95 Express Lanes construction zone. According to the report, almost all (94 percent) of frequent I-95 drivers have seen someone engage in dangerous, distracted behavior while driving. In addition, more than half (56 percent) of I-95 drivers use their phone while driving, and these cell phone users are at least twice as likely to have had a traffic incident or near miss as a result of their behavior.

“Practicing safe driving is important not only when traveling through construction zones – but when driving throughout Virginia,” said Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia Secretary of Transportation. “Taking your attention away from the road is dangerous under any condition but it is exceptionally dangerous in a constantly changing construction zone. Programs such as Orange Cones. No Phones. – combined with the Commonwealth’s new, tougher distracted driving laws – help us to encourage drivers to put down their phones and focus on driving.”

The Transurban-Fluor and AAA report is based on a survey of 943 drivers who frequently travel through the 95 Express Lanes construction zone corridor. The survey indicates that cell phone use while driving on I-95 is a common practice, with 56 percent of respondents admitting to using their cell phones while driving.

According to the survey, nearly one in five I-95 drivers text while driving, with 17 percent of drivers admitting they read texts while driving, and 11 percent admitting they write texts while driving. Meanwhile 24 percent of I-95 drivers report talking on the phone without a hands-free device and 39 percent talk on the phone with a hands-free device. And 75 percent of I-95 drivers admit using their phone while driving within the past week. The report reveals that cell phone use is dangerous with 23 percent of I-95 drivers reporting a near miss or traffic incident as a result of their distracted driving behavior. Cell phone use dramatically increases the odds of an incident or near miss. Drivers who text are nearly three times as likely to have an accident or near miss as compared to non-phone users, while those who engage in any cell phone activity while driving such as reading or writing a text, talking with or without a handheld device are two times as likely. “Driving in a busy construction zone like the 95 Express Lanes corridor requires all of your attention and focus,” said Lon Anderson, managing director of Public and Government Affairs, AAA Mid-Atlantic. “It’s important for drivers to remember that taking your eyes off the road for any reason is dangerous. No phone call or text message is worth the safety risk to you and those around you.”

Awareness is helping distracted drivers change their behavior – but not enough. Three out of four I-95 drivers recall recently reading or seeing a news story on the dangers of distracted driving. Despite awareness of these dangers, one in three distracted drivers have not changed their cell phone habits – even in construction zones. Just 20 percent of I-95 drivers have specifically opted to not read or write texts or emails in construction zones. Just 14 percent say that they make a conscious effort to not talk on a cell phone in the construction zone. “It is imperative that motorists work to eliminate distracted driving behaviors on all Virginia roads and especially those in construction work zones,” said Michael Spivey, Captain, Fairfax Division Commander, Virginia State Police. “In an effort to limit distractions, Virginia State Police has increased its visibility in these work zones. We also remind drivers to limit traditional distractions such as driving while drowsy or eating in the car – all of these distractions take attention away from driving and increase your risk of an accident.”

First published in World Highways