Every day in the United States, at least eight people are killed and 1,161 are injured in automobile crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Driving 55 mph, the average text takes the driver’s eyes off the road long enough to cover a football field.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and there’s no better time to pay attention to your own driving habits as well as those you ride with, and familiarize yourself with new driving laws that affect everyone on the road.
Definition of Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is defined as driving while doing any other activity that takes your attention away from driving. It includes talking on a cell phone, texting, applying makeup or even eating. And taking your hands off the wheel isn’t the only form of distraction – taking your eyes off the road or taking your mind off the road is also a form of distracted driving. All of these increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash.
“Distracted driving is becoming a huge problem as we introduce more technology into our society, and we lead even busier lives where we’re constantly doing things and multi-tasking,” says Karli Tedeschi, injury prevention coordinator at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
Driving Laws Changed to Curb Distracted Driving
Americans spend an average of 17,600 minutes (nearly 300 hours) driving each year, according to a recent survey conducted by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that more than 5 million crashes occur in the U.S. annually.
Distracted driving is a contributing factor to many of these crashes. Laws are updated on a regular basis to ensure that people are as safe as possible while on the road.
Earlier this year, California implemented a stricter hands-free law for drivers that requires cell phones and other devices to be mounted; if a driver's hand makes contact, it can only be a single touch or swipe. This applies to more than just texting, and includes all interaction with phones and other devices.
Positive Changes You Can Make
Everyone can make positive changes to help reduce injuries and collisions from distracted driving. Tedeschi recommends these steps:
- Model good behavior for your children. “Your children see what you’re doing and they grow up to mimic it,” says Tedeschi. “It isn’t just teenagers who are texting and talking on their phone and driving, we find that it’s the parents too. So show them how to be a responsible, safe driver every time you’re in the car with them.”
- Be a cautious and aware pedestrian, too. “There are cases where people are walking while using their cell phones and they step right out in front of a car and get hit because they weren’t paying attention,” says Tedeschi. “It’s the responsibility of both the driver and the pedestrian to be aware of what’s going on around them.”
- Speak up when riding with other distracted drivers. “If you’re in the car with someone who is driving and distracted, say something,” she says. “Ask them to stop what they’re doing or to pull over to the side of the road. That’s one way we can all make an effort to get others to change their bad driving habits.”
- If it’s just too tempting, place your distractions out of reach. If you know you will check for a text or dig for a snack while driving, move anything that could become a distraction – cell phone, purses, food – to the back seat or even the trunk while driving. Whatever it is, it can wait or you can safely pull over.
For a full list of driving laws, please visit California’s Department of Motor Vehicle’s online driver handbook, available at www.dmv.ca.gov.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.