Everyone can share in solving distracted driving crashes

Cell phones, texting devices, navigation systems, digital music players and other portable technologies increase distractions for motor vehicle drivers. Those new technologies challenge motorists who already struggle with distracting tasks while driving – such as caring for pets and children, holding conversations, eating, reading, smoking and drinking beverages.

Driver inattention is a leading contributor to motor vehicle crashes in Idaho and the rest of the country so U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced new anti-distracted driving regulations.

Kicking off the 2010 national Distracted Driving Summit Tuesday, LaHood said he was initiating new rulemaking to prohibit commercial truck drivers from texting while transporting hazardous materials.

In addition, he announced that rules banning commercial bus and truck drivers from texting on the job and restricting train operators from using cell phones and other electronic devices while in the driver’s seat have been posted. These were rules proposed at last year’s summit.

“We are taking action on a number of fronts to address the epidemic of distracted driving in America,” said LaHood.

The USDOT and the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) also announced Tuesday that almost 1,600 U.S. companies and organizations have adopted distracted driving policies to date, covering nearly 10.5 million workers nationwide.

Another 550 organizations have committed to adopting policies that will cover another 1.5 million employees within the next year.

“I am thrilled that businesses across the country are making anti-distracted driving policies an integral part of their employee culture,” LaHood said.

In 2009, nearly 5,500 people died and one-half million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research. Distractions contributed to 16 percent of all traffic fatalities last year.

NHTSA defines distraction as a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention away from the task of driving to focus on another activity instead.

Distracting tasks can affect drivers in different ways and are categorized into three types – visual, taking your eyes off the road; manual, taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive, taking your mind off the task of driving.

Drivers can reduce distracted driving first by putting down all the technology meant to make life easier and more productive. No one is paying full attention to the road while fussing with those devices.

Almost anything that diverts attention from driving can wait until stopped. The chances of causing a crash that could ruin lives are just too great.

Remind younger drivers that inexperienced driving combined with distractions contribute to critical misjudgments. Drivers younger than 20, who text more than any other age group, have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.

All have a stake in the problem and can be part of the solution. Full attention must be devoted on driving. Be a good example for children, peers and the community. Always insist that when riding with others they do the same.

There is never a good time to look away from the road.

At 35 mph, a vehicle will travel more than 50 feet in a second. Get distracted for just three seconds and your motor vehicle will travel the distance of half a football field unattended.

Published 9-24-2010