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April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, know the long list of distracting behaviors behind the wheel

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and motorists are reminded that cell phone use isn’t the only dangerous distraction causing crashes on the roadway.

While it often gets the most attention, smartphone use alone is not to blame for the majority of fatal crashes involving a distracted driver. That’s not because cellphone use isn’t a significant cause of such crashes. But, because there is such a long list of other potentially deadly distractions, phone use makes up only a portion of the overall picture.

According to the latest federal crash data, confirmed smartphone use accounts for about 12 percent of all fatal crashes involving a distracted driver. Although it is widely accepted that distracted driving crashes caused by cellphone use are highly underreported, the data clearly indicates there are many other distractions that warrant our attention as well.

In Kentucky, State Police data shows there were 131,116 crashes in 2021. Of those crashes, cell phone use was identified as the cause in 1,050 crashes, while 5,303 crashes were due to other distractions combined. Crashes caused by cell phone use caused 5 fatalities and 313 injuries last year, while those crashes due to other distractions combined accounted for 15 fatalities and 1,433 injuries.

(Graphic courtesy End Distracted Driving)

“There’s no doubt motorists of all ages can become distracted by their phones. But AAA wants to remind drivers that there is also a long list of other distractions that warrant attention―from using vehicle technology to eating,” says Lori Weaver Hawkins, public affairs manager, AAA Blue Grass. “It’s impossible to eliminate distractions entirely while driving, but there are also steps drivers can take to minimize the number of distractions and their impact as much as possible.”

There are 18 possible causes of distracted driving listed on the standardized crash reporting forms investigators are required to fill out and only three of them refer to a mobile phone. Other distractions include those caused by passengers, drivers adjusting climate or audio controls, reaching for something, eating or drinking, and activity outside the vehicle, such as a crash scene, that causes the driver to become distracted.

An analysis of data from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that taking your eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles your risk of a crash.

Numbers likely underreported

Fatalities on our nation’s roadways have jumped dramatically in the last few years.

Due to incomplete and likely underreported data, no one knows exactly how many fatal crashes are caused by driver distraction. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that driver distraction is a factor in almost 9 percent of fatal crashes.

Analysis of the latest data from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) found that:

• In 2020, there were more than 3,000 people killed in motor vehicle crashes involving drivers reported by the police as distracted.

• Of those killed in crashes reported as involving a distracted driver, almost 20% were between the ages of 25-35.

Distracted driving and pedestrian fatalities

Pedestrian deaths are skyrocketing and distracted driving has been identified as a contributing factor in many of those crashes.

• In 2020, there were 480 pedestrians, 83 cyclists, and 14 other non-occupants killed in crashes that involved a driver who was reported to be distracted.

• And, in the first six months of 2021, the latest data available, pedestrian deaths nationwide increase by 17% over the same period the year before.

Don’t Drive Intexticated

While the phone alone is not to blame for many of the distracted driving fatalities, there are still hundreds of lives lost each year because someone felt the need to answer a call, send a text or read an email.

In its annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, a yearly survey of driving behaviors, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that:

• about 25 percent of drivers surveyed report typing or sending a text message or email within the past month

• more than one in three report reading a text or email while driving within the past month

The “Don’t Drive Intexticated” campaign, which began in 2019, focuses on making texting while driving just as socially unacceptable as drinking while driving. Drivers are urged to put their phones down, look up and limit ALL distractions.

Slow Down, Move Over for Roadside Workers

Distracted drivers are unlikely to see first responders and others working at the roadside. “Move Over” laws exist in all 50 states. While the laws vary slightly from state to state, drivers are generally required to slow down and move over a lane any time there is a first responder working roadside. In some states, the law applies to anyone working roadside, with some including stranded motorists as well.

Kentucky law requires motorists to move to the adjacent lane when approaching an emergency or public safety vehicle. If it’s impossible or unsafe to change lanes, motorists must slow down and use caution. Failure to comply can result in fines, jail time or both.

“It is fitting that Distracted Driving Awareness Month intersects this week with National Work Zone Awareness Week because distracted driving puts all those who work at the roadside at greater risk,” says Weaver Hawkins. “But the growing number of lives lost clearly illustrates that distracted driving–in all its forms–needs greater attention year round.”

Tips to Eliminate Distracted Driving

Fully focus on driving. Do not let anything divert your attention, actively scan the road, use your mirrors and watch for pedestrians and cyclists.

Put aside your electronic distractions. Don’t use cell phones while driving―handheld or hands-free―except in absolute emergencies. Never use text messaging, email functions, video games or the internet with a wireless device, including those built into the vehicle, while driving.

Make adjustments before you get underway. Address vehicle systems like your GPS, seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before hitting the road. Decide on your route and check traffic conditions ahead of time.

If you have passengers, enlist their help so you can focus safely on driving.

If another activity demands your attention, pull off the road and stop your vehicle in a safe place rather than attempting the task while driving. To avoid temptation, power down or stow devices before heading out.

“As a general rule, if you cannot devote your full attention to driving because of some other activity, it’s a distraction,” sums up Weaver Hawkins. “Address whatever the issue is before or after your trip, not while behind the wheel.”

AAA Blue Grass

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