What You Need to Know About Distracted Driving Awareness Month

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day in the U.S. more than nine people are killed and more than 1,153 are injured in accidents that involve distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is aiming to raise awareness about the detrimental consequences of driving while distracted during the month of April. State highway patrols and organizations like the American Trucking Association have joined the NHTSA to spread the word throughout their networks. What do you need to know about distracted driving?

It's About More than Phones

When we hear "distracted driving," most of us immediately think of texting or talking on the phone while driving. While using your mobile device is extremely dangerous and accounts for many accidents, there are other ways to get distracted. The CDC groups distracted driving into these three categories:

  1. Visual distraction involves taking your eyes off the road. This might be to look at something on the road, to reach for an item that has fallen on the floorboard, to look at a passenger in the back seat or even just to find another station on the radio.
  2. Manual distraction means you've taken your hands off the wheel. Drivers often try to eat while steering with a leg or knee, or they attempt to use just one hand to drive while reaching for another item they feel they need at that moment.
  3. Cognitive distraction means you've taken your mind off driving. The reasons for this distraction are endless. Daydreaming, thinking about an upsetting situation, planning out what to do when you get to work or get home, or any other distraction that makes you not pay attention to navigating your vehicle.

While distractions include many things other than phones and electronic devices, these items are so dangerous because they involve all three types of distraction. Using your phone, or even the navigation system that comes with your vehicle, requires that you take your eyes off the road, take your hands off the wheel and take your mind off the task of driving. Even hands free devices require your brain, creating a cognitive distraction.

Our Youth at Greater Risk

Studies from the CDC and the NHTSA point to the added risk for young people. The NHTSA found that 10 percent of all drivers aged 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal accidents were distracted at the time of the crash. This younger age group makes up the largest group of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crash.

What can be done?

Many states have enacted laws forbidding the use of electronic devices while driving. You can find distracted driving laws by state through the Governor's Highway Safety Association. Additionally, organizations like the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have banned employees from using their electronic devices while driving. However, prosecuting offenders is difficult. No one is monitoring individual drivers. And, what about all the other distractions that are not illegal? Consider the following tips.

  • Silence devices and put them out of reach before you begin driving. Check for messages once you arrive safely at your destination.
  • Be a role model. Don't let your children see you texting, talking on the phone, eating or performing other unnecessary tasks while driving. Set a good example.
  • Raise awareness. Talk to your teens about driver safety. Encourage them to not ride with others that drive while distracted.
  • As a passenger, tell the driver not to use his or her electronic device and offer to make the call, send the text, select the music or program the destination into the GPS for them.

A NHTSA survey found that at any given moment, 660,000 drivers are using electronic devices. Don't let one of them be you.

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