Distracted Driving

by John Dunker

Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety. Types of distractions include: texting, using a cell phone or smartphone, using a navigation system, watching a video, adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player, among others. But, because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.

We have all seen and heard the phrase “don’t text and drive” everywhere, yet many of us continue to do it, creating dangerous conditions on our nation’s roads and highways. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded. It is extremely dangerous. Texting while driving makes a crash up to 23 times more likely. Simply dialing a number makes a driver 2.8 times more likely to be in an accident and talking or listening makes him 1.3 times more likely to be in a crash.

Texting is more dangerous than drugs and alcohol while driving: Drivers who text on the road are in far more danger than intoxicated drivers, according to a new study conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving. One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.

Passenger car driving behavior falls under the jurisdiction of the individual states, so the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) can’t ban it. Congress has considered a number of good laws to prevent distracted driving, but unfortunately nothing has passed yet. However, many states have stepped up to pass tough laws against texting or reading text messages on a cell phone. Both Tennessee and Kentucky have laws prohibiting drivers from texting.

Consider some of these statistics reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the year 2014:

· Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
· There were 3,179 people killed and an estimated additional 431,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
· Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crashes.
· There were 520 pedestrians killed by distracted drivers.

Our youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk, with 16% of all distracted driving crashes involving drivers under 20. But they are not alone. At any given moment during daylight hours, over 660,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone. According to the DOT, this number has held steady since 2010.

Teenagers have a very sad excuse when they are asked why they do it when they know the risks. The standard excuse is that they have seen adults do it too. Good parenting involves leading by example. If you are a parent and you take your kid on a drive, and you text, you are making it seem to them as if texting and driving is something “cool” to do.

As adults, there are a couple of things we can do to stop our teenagers from texting behind the wheel. There are apps for both Android and iOS smartphones you can download that block texting while driving. There is also something known as a drivecam, which records live video of what is going on in the driver’s seat, and sends you updates.

Parents are the biggest influencers on their teen drivers, even if you think they aren’t listening. The NHTSA reminds parents to set the rules before they hit the road with “5 to Drive”:

· No cell phones while driving
· No extra passengers
· No speeding
· No alcohol
· No driving or riding without a seat belt

Some people still don’t know how dangerous distracted driving is. Others know about the risks of texting while driving, but still choose to do so anyway. They make the mistake of thinking the statistics don’t apply to them, that they can defy the odds. Still others simply lead busy, stressful lives and use cell phones and smartphones to stay connected with their families, friends, and workplaces. They forget or choose not to so when they get behind the wheel. We all need to work harder to curb these disturbing statistics. Just don’t text and drive!