April is National Distracted Driving Awareness month, and a troubling trend of increased driver distraction is causing chaos on our roads. The number of people killed on U.S. roads and highways last year is the highest it’s been in 14 years – more than 40,000, according to new estimates from the National Safety Council. Distraction is a factor in as many as 25 percent of all crashes, up about ten percent from the previous year.
The National Road Safety Foundation says education and intervention can help limit distracted driving.
“Talking and texting on cell phones, while the most talked-about cause of driver distraction, is not the only thing that can distract a driver,” said Michelle Anderson, Director of Operations at The National Road Safety Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes safe driving behavior.
“Seemingly harmless things like tuning the radio, adjusting the GPS, eating or drinking can take a driver’s eyes and mind off the road, with potentially deadly results. Even talking to other passengers can be a dangerous distraction. Part of the solution is simply becoming aware of what creates driver distraction and remembering that drivers must always keep their hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and their mind on the task of driving.”
Passengers can play a significant role in reducing the number of distracted driving crashes by speaking up if they’re in a vehicle being driven by someone who is distracted or driving dangerously. “Passengers shouldn’t be afraid to intervene,” Anderson said. “We can’t let the fear of being labeled a “back-seat driver” stop us from taking steps to arrive safely. It’s important that passengers speak up, perhaps offering to make or take the call or send the text message for the driver, if he or she feels it just can’t wait.”
The risk of distraction is especially high for teen drivers. Nine percent of drivers ages 15 to 19 involved in 2019 fatal crashes were reported as distracted.
“It’s important that parents talk with their teen drivers about distraction,” Anderson said. She suggests they sign, with their teens, a mutual pledge not to text or talk on the phone while driving. Parents can also use technology to help stem the problem, with apps that prevent calls while a car is in motion and others that enable parents to track and monitor driver behavior.
Parents should also refrain from using their phones while driving, as well as obeying speed limits and traffic signals. “Young people pattern their behavior on what they see their parents and other adults do, so it’s up to us to set the right example,” said Anderson.
As part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, state and local police will partner with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the annual “U Drive. U Text. You Pay” campaign to aggressively enforce distracted driving laws.
The National Road Safety Foundation has brief videos about distracted driving that can be viewed or downloaded at no charge from https://www.nrsf.org/resources/distraction.