Study: Car passengers are more distracting than you think

Passengers in a vehicle may be more distracting to drivers in Connecticut than you may think.

When you think of distracted driving, you probably picture someone on his or her phone, texting away while behind the wheel. In recent years, there has been a big push in Connecticut to address cellphone use while operating a motor vehicle, and rightfully so. After all, the behavior is more than just dangerous - it is deadly.

But there are many more distractions besides using a phone. In fact, one of the most common ways for a driver to lose focus is one that may surprise you: talking to a passenger.

By the numbers

The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration released a report in 2010 that noted that of all the sources of internal distractions - such as using a phone, eating and adjusting the radio - talking to a passenger in the vehicle was the most commonly cited factor in a sample of automobile crashes under review. The NHTSA estimates that this behavior took place in approximately 16 percent of the incidents studied.

Teenage drivers

More recently, the NHTSA took a look at how having passengers in the car affects teenage drivers. According to the organization, when even just one passenger is in the vehicle, a teen driver is two-and-a-half times more likely to take part in some type of risky behavior, such as speeding. If there are two or more passengers, that risk factor jumps up to three times as likely.

Examining the issue

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety did a deep dive in 2014 into distracted driving. Researchers measured the secondary activities that motorists engage in while driving and found that cellphone use actually fell behind interacting with a passenger. Drivers were found to be talking with a passenger nearly 12 percent of the time, and talking on a cellphone only 6.5 percent of the time.

One of the study's authors noted that by focusing mainly on cellphone use, there is a risk that we are ignoring the other potentially dangerous behaviors drivers engage in. Also, the study found that generally, drivers were actually more attentive while on the phone than while interacting with a passenger. Motorists using a cellphone were found to drive an average of 5 to 6 miles an hour slower, while motorists talking to other people in the car were not slowing down.

The takeaway from all this should be that doing essentially anything other than focusing on the road is potentially harmful. Connecticut law already prohibits people from using handheld devices while behind the wheel. Although passenger interaction may never be outlawed, drivers should be aware of how risky it could be.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in Connecticut.