Despite all the warnings, Americans continue to use their cell phones and other electronic devices while behind the wheel.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at any given hour of the day, approximately 660,000 Americans are using cell phones or other electronic devices while driving. Distracted driving takes an enormous toll in terms of property damage, injuries and deaths. In 2011, distraction-related crashes injured 387,000, and killed an additional 3,300 Americans.
Nearly 50 percent of participants in the 2012 National Survey of Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors said that they answered incoming phone calls while driving. Twenty-five percent of participants said they placed outgoing phone calls while behind the wheel.
Text messaging is an especially dangerous activity to engage in while behind the wheel. Texting while driving creates a crash risk 23 times higher than driving while not distracted. Studies have found that sending or receiving a text message can take a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. When driving at highway speeds of 55 mph, that’s enough time to travel the length of a football field.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland says, “Many drivers do see distracted driving as risky when other drivers do it, but don’t recognize how their own driving deteriorates.”
In an attempt to raise awareness about the dangers, the Department of Transportation has declared April “Distracted Driving Awareness Month” and created a Web site focused on providing consumers with information and resources related to the problem which Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has characterized as an epidemic.
According to www.distraction.gov, phone usage is not the only deadly distraction motorists engage in while driving. The site also lists grooming, eating and drinking, using a navigation system and adjusting the radio, CD or MP3 player as potentially deadly distractions.
In conjunction with Distracted Driving Awareness Month, today marked the beginning of the 11th annual National Work Zone Awareness Week which aims to inform motorists of special safety precautions that should be observed when driving in highway construction areas. Over the past 11 years, the program has been credited with reducing work zone fatalities by 39 percent.