1 in 4 Charleston drivers distracted in school zones

Kristin Greeson

Sept. 21, 2009

1 in 4 Charleston drivers distracted in school zones

Local ratio worse than national average

CHARLESTON -- As children head back to school, national research from Safe Kids USA shows that one out of every six drivers in school zones is distracted by the use of cell phones, eating, drinking, smoking, reaching behind the seats, grooming or reading. Research results from the Charleston area indicate even more dangerous behavior, with one out of every four drivers distracted in school zones.

The study, "Characteristics of Distracted Drivers in School Zones: A National Report," consists of more than 40,000 observational road-side surveys conducted by local Safe Kids researchers in 20 locations across the United States. Safe Kids Trident Area is one of 20 coalitions that participated, making 5,828 observations last fall near St. Andrew’s Middle School in West Ashley.

How Charleston compares with the national average:

• 1 in 4 Charleston drivers are distracted (which is more than the national average)

• Cell phone and electronic device usage are the number one distraction (similar to national findings)

• Females are more likely than males to be distracted with grooming practices and males are more likely to be distracted by eating, drinking or smoking.

• Drivers in a pickup truck, SUV, or minivan are 26 percent more likely to be distracted than those driving a car.

National safety statistics:

• Unbelted drivers are 34 percent more likely to be distracted than belted drivers

• Afternoon drivers are 22 percent more likely to be distracted

• Throughout the year, one out of three child pedestrian deaths occur between 3 and 7 p.m., making afternoons the most dangerous time for children to walk

• Females are 21 percent more likely to be distracted than males.

• Use of electronics (such as cell phones and PDAs) is the leading category of distraction while driving

• Drivers not wearing a seat belt are the most likely group to also be driving distracted

• Drivers engaging in one risky behavior are more likely to engage in multiple unsafe driving behaviors

"The public expects drivers to be on their best behavior when they are near schools; however, the new study shows the opposite is true when it comes to distracted driving," said Kristin Greeson, Safe Kids Trident Area coordinator. "With recent research demonstrating that the driving skills of a distracted driver are as bad as or worse than an intoxicated driver, the overall relevance of this study is clear. Nationally, almost one in six drivers in a school zone behaves like a drunk driver."

While the debate about laws governing hand-held electronic device use while driving continues, research has shown that states with laws regulating the use of these devices in a vehicle are 13 percent less likely to have distracted drivers in school zones. South Carolina does not currently have a law prohibiting the use of hand-held electronic devices.

"Multitasking while driving can have deadly consequences," said Greeson. "Drivers need to shut off their phones and pay attention to the road, especially in areas that are filled with children." Safe Kids Walk This Way, a grassroots pedestrian safety initiative in more than 600 schools nationwide, is made possible through support from program sponsor FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX). Through this year-round program, children learn safe pedestrian behaviors; school communities identify the pedestrian hazards surrounding their schools; and school pedestrian safety committees and task forces lead efforts to educate pedestrians and drivers about safe behaviors, enforce traffic laws and improve environments for child pedestrians. The study on distracted drivers in school zones was made possible through a grant from FedEx.

For more information about the new report on distracted drivers, tips for drivers and pedestrians or background on the Walk This Way program, call 202-662-0600 or visit www.usa.safekids.org/wtw/.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 11,000 employees, including 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.6 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit www.musc.edu or www.muschealth.com.

About Safe Kids Trident Area

Safe Kids Trident Area works to prevent unintentional childhood injury, the leading cause of death and disability to children ages 1 to 14. Its members include local fire departments, health departments, hospitals, and businesses. Safe Kids Trident Area is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing unintentional injury. Safe Kids Trident Area was founded in 1996 and is led by MUSC Children’s Hospital.