When the Rubber Meets the Road – How Our Roadways Impact Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving Awareness Month was observed in April - and there’s no better time to be talking about this epidemic.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Ohio State's Zhenhua Chen, assistant professor in City and Regional Planning at the Knowlton School of Architecture

Every day in the U.S., approximately nine people are killed and more than 100 injured in distracted driving crashes caused by cell phones, dashboard touchscreens, voice commands, and other in-vehicle technologies that pose a threat to safety, according to the National Safety Council. The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business is working to bring those numbers down.

The Risk Institute is a collaboration of companies and researchers that work to understand and develop effective risk management strategies. The institute helps organizations understand and manage risk from legal, operational, strategic, and financial perspectives, among others.

“Efforts to reduce distracted driving must include solutions that go beyond new laws,” said Risk Institute Executive Director Phil Renaud. “We believe that solution lies at the intersection of our unique, four-pillar approach: behavior, technology, urban planning, and legislation. Only then can we reduce crashes and save lives.”

To meet that need, a recent study from The Risk Institute reveals the important impact that modifying road design can have on reducing the frequency and severity of distracted driving crashes. Key findings include:
Distracted driving-related crashes account for approximately 8 percent of overall Ohio crash fatalities and 6 percent of Ohio serious injuries.

  • Distracted driving crashes are five to 10 times more likely to be fatal.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Ohio State University city and regional planning researchers Zhenhua Chen, assistant professor, and Youngbin Lym, his Ph.D. student, 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 a much higher risk of 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.

Awareness has grown around drunk driving, smoking, and wearing seatbelts - and now it’s time for the conversation to change around distracted driving. It’s up to everyone to help pump the brakes on this issue. 

To learn more about The Risk Institute and its research, visit https://fisher.osu.edu/centers-partnerships/risk-institute. 


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.

PHOTO: Ohio State's Zhenhua Chen, assistant professor in City and Regional Planning at the Knowlton School of Architecture.