BY WENDY M. DODD   |   PHOTOS 123RF.COM

10% of fatal crashes in 2015 were reported as distraction-affected crashes. -NHTSA

Since 2009, multiple studies from across the nation have shown a steady increase in the rate of distracted drivers and distracted driving related crashes despite the heightened efforts of local, state and national awareness groups.  Though studies indicate more than 90% of drivers are against using a smartphone while driving, the majority still give in to temptation.

Another hard hitting realization that too many of us ignore, answering just one text diverts a drivers attention away from the roadway for an average of 5 seconds.  At 55 mph, that driver blindly traveled the length of a football field.  In that 5 seconds, your life or the life of someone you love could be devastatingly changed forever.

Beginning in 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated April as National Distracted Drivers awareness month.  With 3,179 deaths in 2014 alone, distracted driving has quickly become a deadly trend sweeping our nation.  As our society becomes more and more accustomed to instant status updates and live-stream video feeds, it is more important than ever to discipline ourselves when behind the wheel.

Distracted Driving Facts

Fourteen states, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. All are primary enforcement laws – an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense-taking place.

Currently, 46 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. All but 5 (FL, IA, NE, OH & SD) have primary enforcement.

By assigning a primary enforcement class to a law, police officers associate a higher priority when enforcing a violation, such as distracted driving.  A secondary enforcement class assignment means the offender would first need to violate a primary enforcement law, such as not wearing a seatbelt, in order to be charged with the secondary.  For example, in the State of Florida, if a driver is pulled over for a seat belt violation, a primary enforcement, the officer may also site for a secondary violation if the driver has also been observed with a cell phone in hand but not vise versa.

No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 38 states and DC ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 20 states and DC prohibit it for school bus drivers.

A 2015 Erie Insurance distracted driving survey showed that drivers engage in multiple dangerous behaviors behind the wheel, including brushing teeth and changing clothes. The survey also revealed that one in three drivers admits to texting while behind the wheel.  Three in four say they’ve witnessed this behavior from other drivers.

A message from US Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, on the Distraction.gov website reads:

“As a father of two, I know how important it is to keep our roads safe. And keeping our roads safe means keeping them free from distracted drivers.

Texting and cell phone use behind the wheel significantly increases a driver’s risk of crashing. Even a single, momentary distraction while driving can cause a lifetime of devastating consequences.

Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation has pushed for good laws, tough enforcement, and increased public awareness to help combat the deadly epidemic of distracted driving.

Currently, 45 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. All but 5 have primary enforcement. Of the 5 states without an all driver texting ban, 3 prohibit text messaging by novice drivers, and 2 restrict school bus drivers from texting.

As we look to the future, DOT will continue to build on the progress achieved by the many anti-distracted-driving advocates across America, including the two million people who have visited this website. And we will continue to be a leader in the fight to end distracted driving. But, we can’t do it alone.

We’re counting on people around the country – students, parents, educators, and employers – to make a pledge to drive distraction-free and encourage others to do

the same.

Please use the resources here on Distraction.gov

to get the facts on distracted driving and find ways to get involved. By working together, we can help make our roads safer for all Americans.”

Teenage Drivers

11 teens die every day 

as a result of texting while driving. -NHTSA

As a mom with two teenage drivers at home, distracted driving is a conversation we have daily for this very reason.  That being said, it’s important to remember that distracted driving does not discriminate. According to the Florida Department of Transportation and State Farm, as of 2014, reports indicate that 80 percent of drivers today reported owning a smartphone.

Just as we teach our younger children the rules of safety as they grow, teaching our novice teen drivers to appreciate the responsibility they accept each time they get behind the wheel is a must.  This begins at a much younger age than many of us realize.  Even as toddlers, our children observe and learn from their parent’s behaviors behind the wheel.  Each time a parent chooses to engage in distracted driving, they are teaching their children by example that this is an accepted behavior by association.  As the old adage goes, actions speak much louder than words and the hard facts of distracted driving prove just that.

According to another 2016 State Farm survey, teens who reported using their a smartphone while driving were significantly more likely to be involved in a crash while driving.  In addition, the study found this also increased the likelihood of other dangerous driving behaviors including speeding, failing to wear a seatbelt, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The Hard Facts

Distracted driving is the ultimate risky decision any driver can make, not only putting their own life in danger, but also their passengers, nearby pedestrians and bicyclists that may also be sharing the roadway. When combing through statistics it may be easy to see those as just numbers, we may need a reminder that these statistics are, or were, someone’s beloved family or friend.

In 2015, according to FDOT statistics, the number one driver distraction noted at the time of a crash was Inattentiveness (at 65 percent) and the citation violation most associated with distracted driving crashes was Careless Driving. The 20–24 age group made up the largest group of distracted drivers (17.8 percent), followed by 25–29 year-olds (14.3 percent) then 15–19 year-olds (11.6 percent). In 2015, Miami-Dade County led in distracted driving fatalities (16), followed by Orange County (13) and Hillsborough County (11).

In 2016 the NHTSA reported 17,775 deaths in just the first part of the year, a 10.4% jump from the same time period in 2015.  Marketing and consumer groups from across the country concur in their findings; the majority of drivers do support distracted driving awareness and harsher laws to deter unsafe behavior.  However, the steady increase in distracted driving crashes ultimately proves that the majority also is not willing to make that same decision for themselves.

Distracted driving is described as any activity that diverts a driver’s attention away from the primary task of driving a vehicle.  Many of the common distractions include:

Texting

Using a cell phone or smartphone

Eating and drinking

Talking to passengers

Grooming

Reading (including maps)

Using a navigation system

Watching a video

Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

Of all the distracted driving, texting has proven by far to be the most deadly.  Texting requires the driver to divert their cognitive, visual and manual attention away from the primary task of driving.  Taking a more basic look at that statement, this driver has just made the decision to cover their eyes, bind their hands and in doing so eliminate their attention to the road while behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Distracted Driving in Your Community

Along with 46 other states, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida has a State Statute (316.305) that prohibits texting while driving. In addition, the State of Florida has implemented a Strategic Highway Safety Plan.  The plan is outlined with the following:

Implement effective roadway design and operation practices such as rumble strips and stripes and flashing beacons with warning signs to mitigate lane departures, speeding, and other symptoms of distracted driving and to reduce congestion and improve mobility.

Change societal attitudes about distracted driving through intensive public education activities.

Collaborate with other public and private organizations to offer innovative solutions such as policies that prohibit distracted driving when using company or organization vehicles.

After seeing a 25% increase in distracted driving accidents since 2012, to help curb distracted driving on Florida roads, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and GEICO Insurance have partnered up to unveil a statewide safety campaign.

In 2015, FDOT unveiled the first ‘Safe Phone Zones’ and their plan to help assist drivers with making that crucial decision to pull over while on their mobile devices.  The news release stated these ‘Safe Phone Zones’ would be located at welcome centers, turnpike service plazas and also 64 rest areas designated throughout Florida, more than any other state thus far.

In a press release from April 2016, “Operating a motor vehicle is a tremendous responsibility which requires a driver’s full attention,” said DHSMV Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes. “The department is reminding drivers of all ages to keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road and your mind on driving.”

The same press release also states there were “more than 45,700 distracted driving crashes in Florida resulting in more than 39,000 injuries and more than 200 fatalities”. In all, distracted driving accidents have accounted for 12.2 percent of all crashes in Florida last year, 7.4 percent of them being fatal.  Statewide, The Florida Highway Patrol covered roughly 43 percent of distracted driving crashes in the same year.

According to FDOT data collected between 2013 and 2015, Pasco County reported 59 distracted driving citations.  In addition, distracted driving was the cause of 962 crashes throughout the county, 1113 of those wrecks resulted in injuries and 4 resulted in a fatality.

A map of your local FDOT ‘Safe Phone Zones’ can be found on at www.fdot.gov/safety.  For more information on helping your community bring awareness to distracted driving please contact Leilani Gruener @ (850) 414-4048.

Taking Action

In a collaborated effort, each driver has the ability to put us one step closer to achieving an overall goal of eliminating distracted driving by doing his or her part.

Make your pledge today.  By taking an independent oath to do your part in cutting down on distracted driving you just may save your own life or the life of someone you love.

The Pledge – Distracted driving kills and injures thousands of people each year. I pledge to:

Protect lives by never texting or talking on the phone while driving.

Be a good passenger and speak out if the driver in my car is distracted.

Encourage my friends and family to drive phone-free.

Visit www.distraction.gov to download and make your Pledge today.

Parent-Teen Driving Contract.  By making a family pledge with your teenage driver you are providing them with a head start to making good life long decisions while behind the wheel.  Have this discussion each time your teen driver gets behind the wheel, set ground rules and discuss the responsibility of every driver has to keep our roadways safe.  Furthermore, be sure you and your teen driver are up to date on your state laws.  Many states now have a Graduated Driver Licensing system that includes a total ban on smartphone use while behind the wheel.  Teaching your young driver how these laws keep us safe and how abusing them can adversely affect their future is key.

As the statistics have steadily proven over the course of almost seven years of data, distracted driving is now the leading and fastest growing obstacle drivers face today.  With your help, in combination with local and national law enforcing agencies, National Distracted Driving awareness month hopes to drives home the critical urgency to apply a conscious effort of safety each time a driver is behind the wheel.

Works Cited:

Official US Government Website for Distracted Driving. (2017). Distracted Driving News.

Florida Department of Transportation. (2017). State Safety Office.

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. (2017). Conducts research to save lives, time, and money and protect the environment.

National Highway Traffic Safety Association. (2017).

Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. (2017). DHSMV: Working to Make A Safer Florida.

Stop The Texts Stop The Wrecks. (2017). Driving facts involving distracted drivers.

These are Real Stories – from www.distraction.gov

John Gordon, 35

John T. Gordon was a law enforcement officer and father to an 11-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. On May 18, 2008, John was riding his motorcycle on Ohio State Route 4 when a young man driving a truck swerved into oncoming traffic. John was struck and died instantly from a broken neck. Records later showed that the driver was using his cell phone at the time of the crash.

Alex Brown, 17

On November 10, 2009, 17-year-old Alex Brown was killed when she crashed her truck on a rural road while she was on her way to school. She was texting at the time of the crash.

Julie Davis, 58

On April 15, 2009, 58-year-old Julie Davis set off for a hike with her best friend in Rudolph, Wisconsin. As they were walking along the highway, a 19-year-old driving at 70MPH struck Julie from behind, killing her instantly.

Xzavier Davis-Bilbo

On October 10, 2010, 5-year-old Xzavier Davis-Bilbo was crossing the street near his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when he was struck by a young woman who was texting while driving. Xzavier, who had dreams of becoming a football player when he grew up, was left paralyzed from the diaphragm down. Valetta Bradford, Xzavier’s mother, is now an advocate against distracted driving and created this video with the help of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Linda Doyle, 61

On September 3, 2008, 61-year-old Linda Doyle was killed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, when a young driver talking on a cell phone ran a red light and smashed into her vehicle.

Casey Feldman, 21

On July 17, 2009, 21-year-old Casey Feldman was struck and killed by a distracted driver as she crossed the street in Ocean City, New Jersey.

Erica Forney, 9

On November 25, 2008, 9-year-old Erica Forney was riding her bike just steps from her home. A neighbor, who was driving an SUV at 25 miles per hour, looked down at her cell phone as she finished a call and never saw the child in her path. Erica was struck and thrown 15 feet, landing on her neck. She died two days later on Thanksgiving Day.

Jacy Good

On May 18, 2008, Jacy Good and her parents attended her graduation ceremony at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. On the way home, a young driver talking on his cell phone ran a red light, causing a tractor-trailer to swerve and crash into the Goods’ vehicle. Jacy was critically injured, and both of her parents, Jean and Jay Good, were killed instantly.

Alison Holden

On April 27, 2009, single mom Alison Holden was driving to work when she was rear-ended at a stoplight by a driver who was sending a text message. She was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. In the months after the accident, she suffered from short-term memory loss and struggled to care for her son while recovering from her injuries. She required extensive physical therapy, and she still feels effects from the crash today.

Brittanie Montgomery, 19

At 19 years old, Brittanie Montgomery was a member of the Hornets Honeybees dance team and studied childhood development as a sophomore at the University of Central Oklahoma. On December 21, 2006, she was killed when she lost control of her vehicle, crossed four lanes of traffic, and was struck by an oncoming car. She was talking on her cell phone with a friend at the time of the crash.

Calli Ann Murray, 2

On December 1, 2010, 2-year-old Calli Ann Murray and her mother Ling were walking home from a park just blocks from their home. As they crossed the street, a young driver texting on her cell phone struck Calli and Ling with her car. Calli was killed instantly, and Ling was critically injured.

Eric Okerblom, 19

On July 25, 2009, 19-year-old Eric Okerblom was killed when his bike was struck by a truck traveling at 60 MPH. Cell phone records indicate that the driver was texting just prior to the collision.

John Sligting, 56

On June 13, 2007, 56-year-old John Sligting was killed when a teen driver talking on her cell phone rolled through a stop sign and into the path of his motorcycle.

Joe Teater, 12

On January 19, 2004, Judy Teater and her 12-year-old son Joe were driving to an after school activity when a young woman behind the wheel of a Hummer and talking on her cell phone ran a red light and slammed into their vehicle. Joe died the next day from his injuries.