According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, just in the year 2009, nearly 5,500 people died in an accident that involved distracted driving and an additional 450,000 individuals suffered injury. Needless to say, “Distracted While Driving” is a serious epidemic that needs to be addressed.
Most of the attention on curbing distracted driving in the United States has been focused on cell phone use, and for good reason: it is one of the worst forms of distraction while driving. In light of this, many states have taken measures such as banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving or prohibiting texting while driving. Just recently, a new federal rule was passed that makes it illegal for commercial drivers—that is, semi-trucks and buses—to text or use a cell phone while driving. And then, just this month, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a safety recommendation calling for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the use of all portable electronic-devices while driving.
That latest recommendation comes as a result of an NTSB investigation into a deadly pileup in Missouri in 2010. That crash started when a pick-up truck rear-ended a semi-truck. A school bus then rear-ended the pick-up truck, making the crash even more severe. The crash involved 2 fatalities and thirty-eight injuries. And at play was a cell phone. The driver of the pick-up truck apparently sent or received 11 text messages in the moments leading up to the crash.
Without a doubt, cell phone use while driving is a major contributor to distracted driving. But it certainly isn’t the only type of distraction. Distracted driving involves any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. And all of those distractions present safety issues. Other types of distraction might involve eating and drinking, putting on making or fixing your hair, even talking to other passengers can be a serious driver distraction. When it comes down to solving the problem of distracted driving, we need to focus on changing driver behavior and perceptions, in a similar way that our perceptions of drunk driving have changed over time.
Through public awareness and education campaigns, today drunk driving has become widely viewed as an unacceptable behavior. That same shift in mentality needs to happen with distracted driving. Putting the cell phone to your ear, opening the atlas, or trying to cram in breakfast on your commute to work are not safe driving practices. And they are, in fact, the very behaviors that cause fatal car accidents.