- - Sunday, April 26, 2015

We are facing an epidemic in America — distracted driving. Every day in the United States, people are killed and injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. Motorists are engaging in secondary behavior during more than half of their time spent driving – an action that is a factor in more than a million national car crashes and 16 percent of fatal accidents annually.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month – have you ever driven distracted? Let’s take action and come to grips with this growing killer threatening each of us – our families, friends and community. Let’s promise and take the pledge, because this is preventable. We have the power in our hands.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About Distracted Driving

What is distracted driving? It is any time a driver takes their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and mind off the primary task — driving safely. Any non-driving activity that we engage in is a potential distraction and increases the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash. They include: texting, using a cell phone or hands-free device, eating, drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video and adjusting a radio or MP3 player.

Why does distracted driving distract? Our brains have a limited capability to perform two cognitive (thinking) tasks such as driving and talking on the phone at the same time. It doesn’t matter whether that phone is handheld or hands-free. Although we may think we are successfully doing two tasks at the same time, in reality, our brains are constantly switching between these tasks. When driving becomes the secondary task, we pay less attention to our driving and to the roadway hazards around us.

How often is this occurring? Almost 70 percent of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 reported that they had talked (or texted) on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days prior to being surveyed. In fact, motorists engage in secondary behavior during more than half of their time spent driving! It is estimated that any time of the day across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving – and experts believe that number grows exponentially every day.

Why would anyone consider texting and driving? Text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. We also need to be cautious with hands-free technology. Despite its name, new research has shown that it, too, is distracting and keeps drivers from focusing all their attention on the task at hand.

How dangerous is distracted driving? Accidents are the 5th leading cause of death in America – with automobile accidents being the leading contributor. The NHTSA reports that in 2012 distracted driving was responsible for:

* Sixteen percent of all motor vehicle traffic crashes.

* Eighteen percent of injury crashes.

* Ten percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes.

* 3,328 fatalities and almost a half-million injuries.

* Deaths of non-occupants such as pedestrians and cyclists

How is it affecting our youth? Texting while driving is now the leading cause of death of our nation’s teen drivers! Nearly 50 percent of all U.S. high school students age 16 or older text or email while driving. This dangerous act now surpasses the number of teens who drink and drive.

How does distracted driving compare to driving intoxicated? Studies available report that distracted driving impairs drivers possibly even more than alcohol intoxication. Car & Driver magazine performed an experiment to determine dangers of texting and driving. They determined it takes sober, focused drivers 0.54 seconds to brake; an additional 4 feet for legally drunk drivers (blood alcohol level 0.08%); a whopping 36 feet when reading an e-mail; and a frightening added 70 feet when texting.

What are the current laws?

Hand-held Cell Phone Use: 14 states and D.C prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Officers are permitted to pull over and cite a driver even when no other traffic offense was taking place (known as a primary enforcement law).

Text Messaging: Currently, 45 states, and D.C., ban text messaging for all drivers. All but five have primary enforcement. Of the five states without an all-driver texting ban, three prohibit text messaging by novice drivers and two restrict school bus drivers from texting.

All Cell Phone Use: No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers. However, 38 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 20 states and D.C. prohibit it for school bus drivers.

Distracted driving is a major cause of preventable injury and death. And because doctors are expected not just to diagnose and treat diseases, but to prevent disease by counseling patients about behaviors that expose them to risk, distracted driving is being added to the list of dangerous behaviors. While measures are being taken, the best way to end it is to educate all Americans about the danger it poses. Join me in taking the pledge – and pass this along! https://www.nsc.org/forms/distracteddriving_pledge.aspx

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