April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which gives us an opportunity to take a look at our own driving patterns and the driving patterns of those we love. By bringing attention to our lack of attention, we can create new habits that will keep our focus on the road.
Nationwide, the stats on distracted driving are startling:
• 60% of cell phone use takes place behind the wheel
• Fatal accidents involving teen drivers hit new highs in 2020, with deaths reaching 42,060, up 8% from 39,107 in 2019.
• 3,142 people were killed by distracted driving in 2020
• According to 2019 NHTSA data, distracted driving, such as text messaging while at the wheel, accounts for 12% of teen fatalities, compared to 9% for all age groups.
Below are five tips and tools to consider for keeping your attention on the road. By increasing our attention in April and beyond, we can work together, as a community, to help save lives!
• Cool Tech. Car brands like Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram all have built-in solutions for drivers to pair their Bluetooth enabled smartphone with their car, so voice commands can be given to connect calls without needing to take your hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. Chevrolet now offers a cool, built-in system to promote safe teen driving called Teen Driver Technology, which allows guardians to set a speed alert, a volume limit, buckle to drive feature, and an in-vehicle digital report card to track the teen’s driving performance.
• Avoid multitasking. Driving requires a lot of brain power and coordination. When we’re behind the wheel, we are processing a large amount of visual information, predicting the actions of other drivers on the road, and coordinating movements with our hands and feet. Eating your lunch, grabbing your sunglasses out of your bag, changing the radio station or reaching for a rolling water bottle on the passenger seat, can seem like simple tasks, but these are all forms of distraction that can be very dangerous while you’re driving. So leave the eating, reaching, and grabbing of items for when your car is in park only.
• Passengers & Activity. Drivers can easily be distracted by conversations and activity while other passengers are in the car. This is especially true for new and teenage drivers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the presence of teen or young adult passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers and the risk increases with each additional teen or young adult passenger. If you’re a guardian of a teen driver, talk to your teen about the rules and responsibilities of driving. Establish consequences if rules are broken.
• Stay Alert. Falling asleep at the wheel is clearly dangerous, but being sleepy also affects your ability to drive safely, even if you don’t fall asleep. In 2017, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that drowsy driving was responsible for 91,000 crashes — resulting in 50,000 injuries and nearly 800 deaths. Driving while drowsy slows your reaction time and affects your ability to make good driving decisions. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep at night, or pull off the road if you start drifting from your lane or find yourself blinking frequently and having difficulty remembering the last few miles driven. Many newer cars now have monitoring systems with technology that alerts the driver with alarms and coffee mug icons on the dashboard when it senses a lack of movement. Lane departure warning systems can also prevent you from driving off the road while nodding off.
• Cell Phone Blockers. Your smartphone can be a tool for safe driving instead of a catalyst for distracted driving through the use of cell phone blocking apps, which prohibit calls or texts while a vehicle is in motion. More advanced apps are capable of blocking audio features and can track speed and sudden stops. One way to resist the urge to respond to text messages while driving is to get in the habit of responding to text messages and starting your navigation before you begin driving. Let your family, friends, and colleagues know in advance that you do not answer or send text messages while driving, but you will get back to them once it’s safe to do so.
Editor's note: Johnny Martinez is a resident of Litchfield Park and General Manager of Larry H. Miller Dodge Ram Peoria.
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