Get Involved: Help Stop Distracted Driving

Despite reports from the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) indicating that distracted driving decreased slightly in 2016 (down 2.2 percent), the overall problem still persists; especially for young drivers.  In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for adolescents.  According to Fathers Against Distracted Driving (FADD), “those under age 21 account for just 6.6 percent of all drivers, but account for 21 percent of all serious accidents.”  Ten percent of all fatal accidents in this demographic (drivers aged 16 to 24) involved distracted driving, accounting for the highest rate of fatalities across all driver demographics.  Some reports cite that 11 people in this age range are killed every day in distracted driving-related accidents.

Distractions can vary.  Some are visual (taking your eyes off the road).  Some are manual (taking your hands off the wheel).  And some are cognitive (taking your mind off the task of driving).  It should be no surprise that one particular cause of distracted driving involves all three variants of distraction: the cell phone.  The National Safety Council reports that “at least 23 percent of all traffic crashes every year, or 1.3 million, involve cell phone use” and that “at least 100,000 additional crashes can be related to drivers who are texting” (FADD). 

What can be done?  First, if you are the parent of a young driver, lead by example.  Put your phone away while driving.  Children learn far more from what you do than by what you say.  Second, look for apps that automatically block the ability to text and receive notifications while driving.  For iPhone users, update to iOS 11 or later and this option is available in settings.  Last but not least, continually educate your kids (and adults) about the perils of distracted driving.  Get to know the key “attention-grabbing” statistics such as the examples in this article.

The Portage Department of Public Safety joins you to combat this epidemic.  Every year the City of Portage Police School Resource Officers (one at each high school) lead lengthy, interactive presentations about distracted driving.  The presentations are made to every Freshman Focus and Health class at the beginning of each semester and then each Junior class during Michigan Merit Exam week.  Student leadership organizations also support speaking out against distracted driving by aiding the School Resource Officers with the presentations encouraging their classmates to take a pledge to refrain from cell phone use while driving.  Officers from PDPS also participate in grant-funded enforcement programs specifically aimed at enforcing distracted driving laws every year.

Distracted driving is an epidemic in our country.  Of the top twenty industrialized nations, the US ranks first in crash rates per 100,000 miles driven (FADD).  The USDOT report for 2016 is encouraging, but more can be done.  To make improvements to the cultural issue of distracted driving will take much more than law enforcement or education; it will require a commitment to change our behavior.