The reality of accidents happening as a result of distracted driving is sometimes filed away in the “it couldn’t happen to me” portion of our mind. For the first time in almost a decade, preliminary data from the National Safety Council estimates that more than 40,100 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2017.
This is the second year in a row that this number has topped 40,000 and is indicative of the upward trend that marks a 6 percent increase from 2015 and a 14 percent increase from 2014, making this is the most dramatic three-year escalation in more than 50 years. As the numbers reveal, this issue is not going away and it could happen to you.
At any given moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving. This number has held steady since 2010. Here are some fast facts that might make you think twice before you take your attention off the road when you are driving. Every eight seconds, someone is hurt in a car crash. More than 100 people die every day in car crashes. An estimated 4.57 million roadway users were injured seriously enough to require medical attention. That number is a 6 percent increase from 2015, making 2017 the deadliest year on the roads since 2007, second only to 2016. The total cost to society from those crashes totaled $413.8 billion.
The biggest challenge to combating distracted driving is the misconception that drivers are immune to the misfortune associated with distracted driving. Complacency is killing us. Studies show that multi-tasking and speeding while driving will lead to an accident. There is no immunity or exception to this statistic. Truly, none of us are the exception. We are the “statistic.” In a recent poll, more than 80 percent of drivers agreed that driving is a safety concern. However, as part of that same survey, 64 percent of drivers stated that they were comfortable with speeding, 74 percent stated they could successfully text and drive and 10 percent stated they were capable of driving while intoxicated. Our complacency is our downfall. Statistics show that we clearly know how to prevent driving fatalities; we’re just not doing it.
We can make the roads safer. Distracted driving does not affect only the driver. It affects the driving environment: our roads. Practice defensive driving; buckle up and designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation. Do not drive tired. Get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue, and drive attentively, avoiding distractions. Even over-the-counter medication can have an effect on your driving. Be aware of the side affects of the medication you are taking and make smart choices.
This issue does not stop at the base gate. The majority of traffic court offenses have to do with speeding and expired registration and insurance. Only 10 percent of personnel pulled over get a ticket. If everybody that was pulled over got a ticket, there would easily be 40-50 traffic court cases every week. Distracted driving is also a top concern here at NAS Lemoore, including texting and cell phone use. Since January 1 there have been 28 traffic accidents and roughly 60 citations that have resulted from distracted driving. If these incidents occurred out in town, at the cost of approximately $200 per offense, these tickets would have cost $5,600 in fines. These distracted driving statistics should serve as an alarm to all of us.
While distracted driving is most commonly associated with texting or talking on your phone, it is not limited to those activities. Distracted driving is ANY activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger the driver, passenger and bystander safety. These 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.
According the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, engaging in visual/manual subtasks, such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting, associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices, increased the risk of getting into an accident by three times. Since text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction. When you break it down by the numbers, five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that is enough time to cover more than the length of a football field blindfolded.
The best way to end distracted driving is to educate everyone about the danger it presents and realize that we could all very-well become the “statistic.” Please share these facts with others and take the pledge to drive distraction-free. It is a powerful statement. By stopping distracted driving, we can save lives.
All my best,
Captain David James,
Commanding Officer, NAS Lemoore