Most of the distracted driving accidents that took place in Montana and around the country over the last five years were caused by drivers who were daydreaming or lost in thought, according to a recent study from Erie Insurance. These findings contradict the prevailing narrative that the recent surge in distracted driving is largely due to cellphone use. Erie Insurance researchers produced their report, which was released at the beginning of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, after studying Fatality Analysis Reporting System data about accidents that claimed the lives of 172,000 road users.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's FARS database relies heavily on the reports filed by police officers who respond to motor vehicle accident scenes, and some experts believe that this means the problem of distracted driving is being underreported. This is because distraction leaves few clues for law enforcement, and a driver who has just caused an accident may not be eager to admit that he or she was not paying attention.
According to the Erie Insurance study, about 1 in 10 of the traffic fatalities studied was caused by a distracted driver, and daydreaming, or being lost in thought, was the cause of 61 percent of the cases of distracted driving accidents. Using a cell phone distracted 14 percent of the motorists who crashed, according to the report, and rubbernecking distractions accounted for a further 6 percent of the fatal accidents.
Drivers who cause accidents while daydreaming are rarely prosecuted because criminal charges must be established beyond a reasonable doubt, but the standard of proof is not as strict in civil cases. Civil plaintiffs must only convince the court that their accounts of the events in question are more likely true than false. This means that experienced personal injury attorneys may choose to pursue cases from which criminal prosecutors would likely shy away.
Source: Erie Insurance, Erie Insurance releases police data showing daydreaming #1 on top 10 list of fatal distracted driving behaviors, Press release, April 3, 2018