SALEM, Ore. - The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has, for the first time, designated April as national "Distracted Driving Awareness" month. Across the country, a campaign will remind motorists, "U Drive. U Text. U Pay." and it is aimed at saving lives.
In Oregon, from 2008 – 2012, 13 people were killed in crashes involving drivers who admitted or were witnessed using a handheld mobile communication device. Officials believe that number is much higher because people may not admit they were distracted while driving, especially if they were using a cell phone.
"We want motorists to be more focused on driving, not less – especially with nice weather on the way when more people will be out using the transportation system," said Troy E. Costales, Safety Division administrator for the Oregon Department of Transportation. "We're proud to support the national effort to raise awareness about how deadly distractions can be; we're working toward zero fatalities on our streets and roads."
Distracted driving isn't limited to those who text or talk on a phone. During that same five year period in Oregon, 65 people died in crashes involving any kind of "distracted driver" – these distractions can include paying attention to passengers or pets, eating or even grooming.
Distraction is anything that diverts the driver's attention from the primary tasks of navigating the vehicle and responding to critical events. To put it another way, a distraction is anything that takes your eyes off the road (visual distraction), your mind off the road (cognitive distraction), your hands off the wheel (manual distraction) and hearing something not related to driving (auditory distraction).
Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, this is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field, filled with people, while blindfolded. Using a cell phone while driving delays a driver's reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08, according to the Society of Trauma Nurses.
Even if you are not in a vehicle but are bicycling or walking and become distracted, you can endanger yourself or others: from 2008 – 2012, nine bicyclists or pedestrians were killed in crashes when they were distracted while biking or walking. Transportation is serious business and focusing on safe transit, no matter which mode, should be paramount.
ODOT, Oregon State Police and law enforcement from around the state, along with NHTSA, consider distracted driving to be an emerging highway safety issue that must be addressed. With the month-long designation and a special week of enforcement, April 10-15, it's a good time for all users of the transportation system to put away the distractions and focus on getting where you want to go safely. Then do that every time you are out walking, biking or motoring around and you'll create a healthy habit and serve as a good role model – not to mention increasing your chances of getting somewhere safe and sound.