Distracted driving has become an epidemic in this country. It is defined as anything that takes attention away from safely driving your car. It used to be that eating, drinking, applying makeup, and tuning the radio were the main culprits. Today, cell phones and digital music players are on top of the list. And it's not surprising given the amount of time we spend on the phones every day.
Texting, tweeting, surfing the Internet, or even just talking on a cell phone causes multiple distractions. While using the phone, we tend to take our eyes off the road, our hands off the wheel, and our minds off of what we are supposed to be doing - driving safely.
In almost every state now there is passed or pending legislation banning distracted driving in one form or another. States favour the use of hands-free devices while driving. Unfortunately, simple use of hands-free devices is not a complete solution. There are dozens of studies that show that hands-free driving doesn't make the driving itself much safer because the brain remains distracted by the conversation.
In 2014, The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Those numbers have dramatically increased compared to prior years. In the same year, the NHTSA reported that number of people killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes was at its lowest point in decades.
A lot of analysts predict that the number of people getting injured or killed by distracted drivers will keep rising in the near future for two reasons. First, the trend continues to increase towards the use and amount of time spent on mobile devices. Second, existing remedial measures to prevent distracted driving are not really effective.
Decades of experience with drunk driving has taught us it takes a consistent combination of different methods to fight back. Severe legal and financial consequences were imposed. Social consequences also developed as a strong negative stigma was associated with driving while intoxicated. Further, transportation companies like UBER and LIFT offered an affordable user-friendly alternative to getting to your destination without jeopardizing your driver license, risking incarceration, or more importantly, the possibility of injuring or killing another person.
The way it stands right now, the consequences for distracting driving are not as compelling. In California, for instance, if you are caught using you handheld cell phone while driving, you will get a "no point" traffic ticket/infraction (California uses a "point system" for moving violations), $150 for a first offence, and $250 for a second or subsequent offence. You may be required to complete an educational program on distracting driving. But that's it, not much else. Is that really sufficient to stop distracted driving?
It's my strong opinion that to put a dent in the problem we need to increase our collective local, state and national efforts through education, stronger laws, effective enforcement and a committed judiciary.
So, what can each one of us individually do to help the situation?
PARENTS need to set clear ground rules for teenage drivers and enforce them.
TEENAGERS need to exert peer pressure and tell friends they won’t ride with them if they text.
EMPLOYERS need to let employees travel to destinations without interruption. It's highly recommended that employers run a distracted driving safety program educating their employees on the dangers associated with being distracted behind the wheel. Participation should be mandatory and all company vehicles, work cell phones, and work-related communication (even in a personal vehicle or on a personal cell phone) should be covered by the program.
The bottom line is that everybody needs to use common sense every time they get behind the wheel.
Areas Of Practice