Distracted driving is both dangerous and common. (Dreamstime)
Photo: Dreamstime
Photo: Dreamstime

Distracted driving is dangerous but common

Bad things can happen fast and without warning on the road, which makes using a cell phone behind the wheel a very bad idea. Everybody knows that but the American Automotive Association’s 2018 Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that many people still do it.

Data from the index shows that 88 percent of drivers surveyed believe that distracted driving is on the rise and a bigger threat than aggressive driving (68 percent), drugged driving (55 percent) or drunken driving (43 percent).

Forty-nine percent admitted to regularly making or taking calls while driving and 35 percent sent texts and emails, despite the fact that they recognize the behavior as a serious risk to personal safety. The survey included responses from a random sample of 2,613 drivers who reported driving within the past 30 days.

“What we have seen year after year (since the index started in 2008) is this ‘do as I say not as I do’ behavior,” AAA Public Affairs Manager Cindy Antrican said. “It’s a sense that ‘I can text but you can’t,’ which is extremely troubling.”

What’s worse is that drivers tend to linger, remaining distracted up to 30 seconds after the additional tasks have been completed, she said.

“Distracted driving is actually underreported,” Antrican said.

AAA also sponsored a dashcam video survey observing teen drivers. Those findings indicated that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes, 44 percent higher than current federal estimates.

“The number of distractions behind the wheel is increasing, from phone apps to in-vehicle technology, increasing the urgency to educate all drivers on the dangers of distraction,” Antrican said. “This is something we are addressing in our driving school classrooms but distraction is not just a teen driving issue. It’s an everybody issue … Drivers talking on a cell phone are four times more likely to crash and those who text are eight times more likely.”

The data is distressing but Lt. Robert Ashenfelter, commander of the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Defiance Post, is doing something about it. “April is Distracted Driving Awareness month and we’re out in full force looking for these things,” he said.

“Last year, 13,997 crashes in Ohio had a reported distraction, resulting in 51 fatal crashes,” Ashenfelter said. “From 2016-17, the number of fatal crashes due to distracted drivers nearly doubled.

“Every time someone takes their eyes or their attention off the road — even for just a few seconds — they put their lives and the lives of others in danger. Distracted driving is unsafe and irresponsible. In a split second, its consequences can be devastating.”

Distracted driving is any activity with the potential to take a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving, Ashenfelter said. They can be visual (taking eyes off the road), manual (taking hands off the wheel) or cognitive (taking the mind off driving). Texting is the biggest risk because it involves all three.

“Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field when traveling at 55 mph,” Ashenfelter said. “Ohio law bans all electronic wireless communication device usage for drivers under 18 and texting while driving is illegal for all drivers as a secondary offense. Forty-seven states ban text messaging for all drivers and talking on a hand-held phone while driving is banned in 15 states.”

In order to avoid distractions, AAA recommends drivers:

• Put aside electronic distractions and never use text messaging, email, video games or internet functions, including those built into the vehicle, while driving.

• Pre-program your GPS and adjust seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before driving.

• Properly secure children and pets and store loose possessions and other items that could roll around in the car.

• Snack smart by avoiding messy foods that can be difficult to manage.

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