The Dangers of Distracted Driving

By Andy Roberts, EMT-I

Distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on America's roadways. In 2012 alone, 3,328 were killed in distracted driving crashes. Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. Distractions include:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety, but because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction. According to the US Department of Transportation, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving during any given daylight moment.
According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the average driver’s eyes are off the road for five seconds when texting. This may not seem like a lot of time, but when traveling at 55mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field essentially blindfolded. When traveling at 70-75 mph speed limits, that distance increases.
Not surprisingly, drivers under the age of 20 text more than any other age group. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes.
Here's how you can keep yourself and others safe when you're out on the road:

  1. Take the Pledge:  Commit to being a safe, distraction-free driver. Visit www.distraction.gov for a pledge form, fill it in, and keep it in your car as a reminder to stay off the phone when you're driving.
  2. Speak Up: Don't stop at being a great driver - be a great passenger! Make sure to call out your friends, and even your parents, if you see them using a cell phone behind the wheel.
  3. Spread the Word: Get involved in promoting safe driving in your community. Use social media to help spread the word that distracted driving is deadly.

As a parent, you can help your young driver develop a lifetime of good driving habits by following these simple steps:

  1. Have the Talk: Driving is a serious responsibility. Discuss what it means to be a safe driver with your teen and set ground rules for when they're behind the wheel. If your teen is on the road, they should stay off the phone.
  2. Set the Example: Print out the pledge form and have every member of your family commit to distraction-free driving. Set a positive example for your kids by putting your cell phone in the glove compartment every time you drive.
  3. Know the Laws in Your State: Many states have Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws that include cell phone and texting bans for young drivers. Remind your teen driver that there could be serious consequences for violating these laws - including a delayed or suspended license.
  4. Download the app. Did you know there are apps that can help prevent texting and driving? Check out:
    • AT&T DriveMode (free) automatically sends pre-set replies to incoming texts to let people know you are driving.
    • DriveSafe.ly ($3.99/month or $13.95/year) actually reads your text messages, calls or emails aloud.
    • Textecution ($29.99) uses GPS to determine speed at which your car is moving. If you are traveling more than 10 mph, the application will disable texting, so you cannot receive or respond to texts.

Andy is an EMT and CPR instructor with Hamilton EMS.