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Motorists will be much safer drivers when we all learn to remain mentally focused on the road ahead. Sounds simple doesn't it?

According to a new study from the Erie Insurance Group we are five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash if someone is daydreaming than if one is using an electronic device.

While neither of those behaviors is appropriate, The company's study examined 65,000 fatal crashes in the U.S. over the last two years and found 10 percent were caused by some form of distracted driving. But of that 10 percent, 62 percent of crashes resulted from drivers being 'lost in thought.' 12 percent of those fatalities were blamed on some form of mobile phone use.

Among the crashes tied to daydreaming, that description covers drivers failing to notice a lethal curve in the road, rushing through a red light, bumping into the back of another vehicle, or some other driver error. The study listed other forms of distractions, including:

Kids or other vehicle occupants — 5 percent.
Reaching for an object elsewhere in the car — 2 percent.
Rubbernecking — 7 percent.
Eating or drinking — 2 percent.

Erie Senior Vice President Doug Smith offered this comment:
“Distracted driving is any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off your primary task of driving safely. We looked at what law enforcement officers across the country reported when they filled out reports on fatal crashes and the results were disturbing. We hope the data will encourage people to avoid these high-risk behaviors that needlessly increase their risk of being involved in a fatal crash.”

Erie's data comes directly from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a nationwide census of fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Erie Insurance consulted with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in its analysis.

Because FARS data on distraction is based largely on police officers' judgment at the time of the crash, and because some people may be reluctant to admit they were distracted when being interviewed by police after a fatal car crash, the numbers are difficult to verify and may, in fact, under-represent the seriousness and prevalence of driving distractions.

Nonetheless, Erie Insurance says the data is meaningful because unlike surveys in which consumers self-report the types of distracted behaviors they engage in, the FARS data is based on actual police reports on fatal crashes.

Let's stay focused and live longer.