Police targeting distracted driving as crashes increase

More than 50 Ohioans were killed last year in 13,867 crashes caused by distracted driving, and one state official said the total probably is much higher.

“We like to see it leveling off. The problem is there’s still 52 people that lost their lives in a distracted driving crash that was 100% preventable,” said Matt Bruning, Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman. “And those are fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, aunts, uncles and grandparents, that should be here right now.”

In 2018, 52 people died and 508 were seriously injured as a result of a distracted driving crashes. There were 13,867 total distracted driving crashes in 2018, up more than 15% from 11,979 in 2013 that caused 45 deaths and 499 serious injuries in 2013, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

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The actual number of distracted driving-related crashes is most likely higher though because most people won’t voluntary report that they were distracted after a crash. Unless there’s a serious injury or fatality, police don’t likely have the resources to investigate, Bruning said.

“Distracted driving, I think that’s been a problem since the beginning of time. I hate to say that, but we only have so much attention span as human beings,” said Sgt. Chris Colbert of the Dayton post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Smart phones have made the problems more prevalent, Bruning said.

“We always think of texting and driving but there are so many other things people are doing while driving thanks to smart phones putting more information in your hands…there’s more opportunities for distraction,” he said.

It’s not just young people. They are more likely to use technology than older Ohioans, but a growing concern among law enforcement are distractions as professionals check email, Bruning said. There have also been reports of accidents resulting from distractions while watching YouTube videos and while reading the news online.

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When drivers are traveling 60 mph and covering 90 feet per second, Colbert said human brains can’t process fast enough to react, especially when distractions are also taking up mental energy.

“Driving requires a lot of complex operation and the fact that we’re getting automated vehicles that do more for us, makes us more complacent, and they don’t do everything. And unfortunately, usually when bad things happen is usually when we’re at that complacent level,” Colbert said.

Ohio leaders have been trying to reverse the trend for years. In October, lawmakers extended the definition of distracted to include any activity that is not necessary for the vehicle’s operation and that impairs the driver’s ability to drive safely. Eating, handing things, children in the back seat, changing the radio station or using a cell phone could all result in a ticket.

It’s a secondary offense, meaning when police pull the driver over for something else — like running a stop sign or crossing the middle lane — they can tack on an additional citation for distracted driving.

The citation comes with a $100 fine, which some motorists can avoid by taking a distracted driving class instead.

But enforcement isn’t enough, Colbert said. A $100 fine only affects the driver, but education impacts everyone who hears it.

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April has been termed Distracted Driving Awareness month in Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday highlighted the risk of distracted driving accidents at the Distracted Driving Research and Technology Showcase hosted by the Ohio State University Risk Institute.

Miami Valley AAA also launched on Wednesday a new educational campaign to raise awareness. The new theme — Are You “Intexticated? — plays on the mental distraction of driving will intoxicated, according to a release.

“It’s one of those things where I think eventually we will have a situation where it will hopefully get the same stigma as driving drunk gets,” Bruning said.

There are also parallels to driving under the influence, he said. Most people think they’re good enough drivers to be able to successfully operate a vehicle while texting or after drinking, but when they see other people doing it, they recognize the danger.

About 90 percent of Ohioans said they are concerned or very concerned about their safety on the road due to other drivers being distracted, according to a AAA survey. Yet 39 percent admitted to looking at their phones at least sometimes.

Fairborn high school student Evelyn Oktavec tested her texting and driving skills Wednesday during a AAA simulation. She said she didn’t feel safe while texting and driving through a cone path, knocking over a few.

“It was pretty hard. This isn’t something you’re supposed to do and it’s hard to pay attention to both of them,” Oktavec said.


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