Are you a Distracted Driver?

April 04, 2017

Decidingwhat health related topic to include in each month’s newsletter can sometimes be a challenge. What is the most important issue, what have I not written about lately, what would people be interested in focusing on are all questions that I ask myself as I sit down to do my research. Of the many topics on the April National Health Observances 2017 list, National Distracted Driving Awareness Month stood out. The National Safety Council (NSC) is very concerned about the increasing number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes and their current news articles titled, One Call Can Change Everything, Road to Zero and Fatality Estimates, reflect that concern.   

Preliminary data from the NSC show that as many as 40,000 individuals died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016. A six-percent increase over 2015 and a 14 percent increase over 2014 makes this number the most dramatic two year escalation of deaths from vehicle crashes in 53 years.  In addition to highway deaths an estimated 4.6 million roadway users were injured seriously enough to require medical attention. Translated into time, every eight seconds someone is injured in a vehicle crash. With 2016 possibly the deadliest year on the roads since 2007, the estimated cost to society was $432 billion dollars. 

A NSC survey released in February shows that 83 percent of survey participants believe driving is a safety concern: however, 64 percent of those surveyed are comfortable speeding, 47 percent are comfortable texting either manually or through voice control, 13 percent are comfortable driving while impaired by marijuana and 10 percent are comfortable driving after they have had too much alcohol to drink. 

NSC President and CEO, Deborah Hersman, states that  “Our complacency is killing us. The US lags behind the rest of the developed world in taking action on highway fatalities. It is very clear what needs to be done, we just have not done it.”   

The top distraction while driving is cell phone use at a rate of 4 times more dangerous than driving without the phone. In addition, texting on a cell phone while driving is 8 - 23 times more dangerous. Driving and cell phone use, including hands-free, both require a great amount of thought and concentration. When driving and talking on the phone the brain switches back and forth between the two causing a slowed reaction time especially when braking and at stop lights.  Drivers talking on cell phones can miss seeing up to 50 percent of their driving environments including pedestrians and red lights. A recent AAA study shows that individuals are distracted up to 27 seconds after they finish sending a voice text. The NSC states that at least 10 percent of all United States drivers are using cell phones at any given time, providing one explanation for the increase in prevalence of traffic accidents and motor vehicle crashes. 

What can you do to help yourself and others be safe while driving? 

1.      Pledge to drive cell-phone free. 
2.      Advocate for strong laws banning all cell phone use, including hands-free, for all drivers not just teens. 
3.      Read the National Safety Council position on other issues that affect driving safety in the United States and take a stand on improving those in your community when the opportunity arrises.
4.    Print out free educational materials from the NSC to share with your local high school and other community facilities. 
5.   Be a courteous and responsible drive and set an examples for others in your community, in  
      other words, “be NICE” when driving.

National Safety Council,
United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Health Observances,

Connie Pearson, Chair
Health Ministries Task Force