By Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich
It is really simple. Pay attention when behind the wheel.
Don’t talk on a cell phone while driving. And, more importantly, don’t text while driving. Don’t use your phone at all while driving. The distraction could be deadly.
Driving safely requires a person’s constant attention to the road and to everyone and everything outside of the car. Many things can distract a driver, like adjusting the radio or sipping coffee, but since texting requires visual, manual and cognitive attention simultaneously, it is by far the most alarming distraction.
Almost 5,500 people were killed in accidents involving driver distraction nationwide in 2009, and another 448,000 people were injured, according to the latest figures analyzed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Recently, a newspaper reported that there are more than 3,000 accidents involving cell phones in New Jersey every year. People are injured or die in these crashes. And the numbers are not going down.
The NHTSA also reports that using a cell phone while driving delays reaction time as much as being legally drunk with a blood alcohol concentration of .08. Drivers who use a hand-held device are 4 times more likely to get into an accident serious enough to cause injury, according to the agency. Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in such a crash.
Our youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk. In 2009, 16% of teen drivers involved in a fatal crash were reported to have been distracted, reports the NHTSA.
Half (52%) of cell-owning teens ages 16-17 say they have talked on a cell phone while driving, according to a survey of 800 young drivers conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. That translates into 43% of all American teens ages 16-17.
Forty per cent of those surveyed say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.
Leading by example is a great way to show our young people that distracted driving is dangerous. If parents don’t use a cell phone in the car, the kids will be less likely to. But our best chance of ending distracted driving is to educate everyone, especially the teenagers, about the danger it poses. The NHTSA offers a lot of important information on their website, distracton.gov.
Distractions in everyday life outside of the car can be dangerous as well. There are plenty of other activities that don’t mix with texting.
Recently, a young man riding a bicycle nearly crashed into my car as I was driving because he was texting as he rode along. Don’t text while riding a bike either.
Also, there is no shortage of video of people texting while walking and ending up falling into a water fountain or blindly strolling smack into a wall. Those lucky enough not to get hurt must be at least really embarrassed.
Pay attention to the world around you, especially when you are behind the wheel of a car, and it will be a safer place for everyone.
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