Study: Distracted driving risks linked to number of people in vehicle

A crash on the Courtney Campbell Causeway underscores how drivers' lack of focus can lead to disaster.

CLEARWATER -- Investigators say 23-year-old Julie Gough claims to have been distracted when she dropped a bottle of Gatorade, late Sunday, leading to Sunday’s chain reaction wreck on the west end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

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Police say distractions are a growing problem, despite warnings - even laws - meant to keep people safe.

And now, a new study suggests the number of people in a car could have something to do with the likelihood that driver will become distracted.

“I would say it's a growing problem, yes,” said Clearwater Police Lt. Mike Walek.

Walek says it’s a dangerous trend, exacerbated by social media. And now, there’s evidence that those distraction disasters may be twice as likely when a driver is alone in a vehicle. 

According to a brand-new study from AT&T, people are far less likely to engage in distracted behavior when there are other people in the car for whom they feel responsible.

The study finds 64% of drivers admit to engaging the most common distraction these days, checking their phone, when driving solo. But that number drops to 36% when someone else is in the vehicle. And just 30% if that someone else is a child. 

Lysette Laroque admits she might be more likely to check a text message when she’s alone behind the wheel. But never, she says, when her son is in his car seat behind her.

“Because it's not just my life, it's his too,” said Laroque.

Having someone else in the car may also help, because there’s someone else there to remind you how dangerous a distraction can become.

“All too often you also have someone in the car who says I'll take care of the radio or I'll take care of this, keep your eyes on the road. Whereas, if you're by yourself, there's no one to reinforce that to you,” said Lt. Walek.

AT&T simultaneously released a powerful service advertisement called "The Unseen" along with its study, reminding drivers that even if they're alone in the car they're not alone on the road. As was the case on Sunday, those at risk might not be in your car. 

To view it, click here.

Lt. Walek’s advice?

“Pretend you're driving a school bus full of children to school every morning. Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and don't be distracted by anything else going on around you.”


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