April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the Department of Transportation's first-ever, national advertising campaign and law enforcement crackdown to combat distracted driving. As part of the effort, television, radio and digital advertisements using the phrase "U Drive. U Text. U Pay." will run from April 7-15, which coincides with a nationwide law enforcement crackdown in states with distracted driving bans.
A study commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, has found that nearly 6 of 10 crashes involving teen drivers were preceded by distractions — interactions with other passengers, cell phone use, grooming or looking at something other than the road ahead. In the survey, commissioned by Erie Insurance, drivers admitted to a variety of distracting behavior: texting, smoking, singing or dancing, applying makeup, fussing with their hair and reading. Most troubling, 30 percent of drivers admitted texting, while 75 percent said they had seen someone else do it. Distracted driving "is becoming a national epidemic and it has to be controlled," said Chelsea Pompeani, spokeswoman for AAA East Central.
The AAA study used video taken by cameras installed in teen drivers’ cars as part of a safe-driving program. The cameras were programmed to turn on whenever the drivers hit the brakes hard, took a corner too fast or crashed. Researchers analyzed 1,691 crash videos and observed potential distractions in 58.5 percent of them. The most frequent distraction was other passengers, at 14.9 percent; cell phone use was seen in 11.9 percent of the crashes and suspected in another 3.9 percent. The good news, 93 percent of the drivers were wearing seat belts. None of the crashes was fatal.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), estimates that 3,328 people were killed and an estimated 421,000 were injured in distraction-related crashes in 2012.
In Pennsylvania, crashes involving drivers younger than 20 have been declining, falling from 29,091 in 2009 to 24,181 in 2013. Fatalities in crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers fell from 40 in 2009 to 27 in 2013, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. As recently as 1997, there were 133 fatalities in crashes involving that age group.
But traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. The crash rate per mile driven is three times greater for those ages 19 and younger than for those 20 or older.
To prevent distracted driving, motorists are urged to:
• Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.
• Be good role models for young drivers and set a good example. Talk with your teens about responsible driving.
• Speak up when you are a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving.
• Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task.
• Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against other unsafe drivers.
If you or a family member has been injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, please call the Elderkin Law Firm at (814)456-4000 for a no-obligation free consultation regarding your legal rights.