With summer coming on, let's add another distraction for drivers already juggling Big Macs and cell phones: skin.
Mark McCullough, a 19-year veteran with the San Diego Police Department and spokesman for its busy traffic division, says fender-benders and other non-fatal collisions rise by about 25 percent during beach season, which starts in May and continues through the end of summer at the popular beach city. Officer McCullough says most are caused by men watching women.
"We get an influx of college kids and tourists to the beach areas during these times, and the accidents climb,'' he says."It's often young guys who, after we talk to them and prod a little, will admit they were eyeing an attractive brunette or good-looking blonde in a little bikini."
A study by Sheilas' Wheels, a British auto insurance company geared to women, supports that. Its survey found that 29 percent of men confess they've been distracted while driving by women in swimsuits or revealing clothing during hotter months. Only 3 percent of women admit they were diverted by men in summer clothes.
"How can you not check out what's going on out there?" asks Mark Singleton, watching the scenery at a pier in Huntingdon Beach, Calif. "I mean, you may not be [consciously searching] for great-looking women, but there are so many out there that you can't really avoid them."
The 38-year-old restaurant manager says he's never rear-ended another car, but he's come close. "No, no crashes,'' he says, then glances at his wife, Cynthia, and grins."That would be really hard to explain."
The price of distracted driving
Tracking a thong has repercussions beyond angering your mate.
Even a minor accident will probably raise your car insurance rates. In general, you can expect as much as a 10 percent jump for a fender-bender; and someone with a consistently poor driving record could face a 40 percent hike, according to Consumer Reports. With the national average for a policy about $1,400 a year, that could mean paying anywhere from $140 to $560 more.
"Accident forgiveness" provisions in your policy - promising no penalty for fender-benders like these -- typically come at a premium price.
Distractions or inattention are responsible for about one out of every four accidents, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That means more than 1.5 million collisions a year and 4,300 crashes daily, according to the most recent figures.
The most frequent distractions are texting, eating, fiddling with the radio or music player, swiveling to talk with passengers and, yes, watching someone or something outside the car. Motorists are also distracted by using PDAs, laptops and navigation devices, according to the NHTSA.
Beauty and the beach
Anyone who's enjoyed the shore during peak months knows the visions that pull us away from the road and other vehicles. The glistening waves, the shimmering sunsets, the golden women in bikinis.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office patrols busy U.S. 98 along the beach in Destin, Fla., and says the calls ramp up once spring break starts. "It is heavier more towards the later afternoon," Sgt. Shannon Tait tells the Northwest Florida Daily News. "We're thrilled people are here, though. We'll gladly take the slight traffic headaches if we get visitors."
It's not only attractive women that cause warm-weather driving lapses and crashes. Tourists eager for the full San Diego experience are sometimes overwhelmed by all they see at the sea, McCullough says.
"First off, you have to realize that our beach views are spectacular--some tourists can actually be dumbfounded'' by them, McCullough says. "It especially happens during sunsets. Drivers have become so overwhelmed [that they] run the car right off the road, close to going over a cliff and into the ocean. That doesn't happen, but they do crash ... they're pretty embarrassed by it all."
Cynthia Singleton concedes she watches the scenery ... and the surfers.
"I assume it happens less with me than it does with him," she said, pointing to her husband. "But there's so much (that distracts you) -- the waves, pedestrians, crowds, the shops on Main Street. Concentrating can be hard, that's for sure."