You See Distracted Drivers Every Day!
We've been told a thousand times not to do it but so many people are still texting from behind the wheel of their cars that almost 80% of all distracted driving accidents in the US -- that's 330,000 a year folks -- are claimed to be due to this awful habit.
More than 2,500 people die annually in crashes caused by texters -- tragically many of them innocent victims of others' irresponsible behavior.
Consequences of Distracted Driving in Maryland
In Maryland, there were more than 48,500 distracted driving crashes in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available. A third of these resulted in injuries. Baltimore and Washington metro areas account for 85% of these accidents.
Fortunately, the numbers actually represent a decline on previous years but there's no room for complacency.
According to the state's Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) weekday afternoons are the most dangerous time for distraction accidents
We're Not Doing Enough
Distracted driving -- defined as a crash in which the driver's attention was diverted from the road -- is not the main cause of crashes in the US, except among the under 20s for whom distracted driving is the leading cause of accidents. (58% says the AAA Foundation.)
But it's still a major problem and one that all of us can do something about. After all, even if you're not a texter, you're still at risk from others' behavior.
According to the non-profit EndDD (End Distracted Driving), drivers just aren't taking the issue, especially cell phone usage, seriously enough.
Their research says that although 84% of drivers recognize the dangers, more than a third of these very same people admit to texting or sending emails from behind the wheel themselves. In another study, although 96% of drivers described themselves as safe drivers, more than half admitted to using the phone anyway.
And a poll in Fortune magazine, found that 20% of all cell phone users feel the need to respond immediately to text messages, no matter what they're doing.
Of course, these are not the only distracted driving cause. There are plenty more. For example: unruly passengers, untethered pets, the behavior of other road users and pedestrians and sheer driver stupidity -- like those who've been spotted applying makeup, unwrapping packages, watching a video, reading and even playing a guitar!
What You Can Do
How can you prevent distracted driving? We can keep on pressing home the message to drivers, especially teens. And we need to let passengers know that they can play a part too in cutting down this type of accident.
But we can do a lot more.
The drivers organization AAA offers these 10 tips:
- Deal with distractions before or after your trip, not while driving.
- If something unavoidably demands your attention, stop as soon as it's safe to do so and deal with it.
- Before setting out, ask passengers (or tell them, if they're kids) to help you focus on your driving by avoiding distractions.
- Put your phone and other electronic devices -- some people have been seen using laptops -- out of reach. Switch off your phone or lock it in the trunk. This applies even to hands-free devices which, while legal to use, have been shown to be just as guilty in distracting drivers.
- Secure your children and pets properly. That means seats or belts for the kids and either a tether or transporter for animals. (It's crazy, as some people do, to drive with a pet on your lap no matter how well behaved you think they are).
- Don't snack or eat meals while driving. Especially, avoid messy foods.
- Do your dressing and grooming at home. Better to be late dealing with these personal tasks than never to arrive because you got distracted behind the wheel.
- Likewise, fix your rear mirror, seat position, radio/music player, GPS, and heater/air conditioner before you move off. (If your phone is also your GPS, you MUST have a disciplined approach, placing it out of reach.)
- Stow bags and any other loose gear that could shift or roll. Again, put them out of reach.
- Consciously stay focused when on the road. Scan the road continuously, looking for potential hazards, cyclists and wayward pedestrians.
We would add a few more important tips to this list.
- Even if you have GPS, plan your route before you leave. And if you go off course, stop and rework your route.
- Make sure your driver's seat is in the most comfortable position and that your view is not obstructed.
- Don't drive when you're tired, upset or tense. It's too easy to lose concentration.
And, of course, don't drink-and-drive, which slows down your reactions. And leave your guitar playing for a safer time!
Phone Apps for Your Teen
You might also consider installing apps on your teen's phone to check on their driving habits and to ensure they don't text or make calls while driving. Some apps will actually block text messages and can be set to auto-launch when the user starts the car.
You can find a good list of safe-driving apps here: https://tinyurl.com/safe-drive-apps
With teens, however, it's not just phones that create problems. So do their passengers. The best way to tackle this is to talk with your young driver and reinforce the dangers of distracted driving and other rowdy behavior. Headlines about teen crashes, especially around graduation time, are unfortunately only too common.
It's the Law
Not only is distracted driving a severe threat to road safety, the use of a handheld phone while driving in our state is also against the law.
First time offenders can be fined $83, second time $140 and third time $160. Points can be given if usage results in a crash. A driver causing serious injury could be imprisoned for three years and fined $5,000.
Maryland has a campaign called "Park the Phone Before Your Drive." If every one of us obeyed that, just think of the consequences of distracted driving -- deaths, injuries and grief -- that we would be spared from suffering.