April Is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

The familiar black and yellow school bus continues to be the safest form of transportation on the planet. Nationally, however, school bus stops continue to present dangers to students who are waiting for them – dangers from motorists who are driving distracted.

To help raise awareness of those dangers, April has been designated as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, enacted into the federal register on March 23, 2010.

Nationally, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death for people aged 1-35; some 3,200 deaths annually. Nearly 400,000 people are seriously injured annually in crashes attributable to distracted driving in general, and cell-phone use while driving in particular. In fact, one in every four crashes is caused by a driver distracted by their cell phone. Drivers are six times more likely to cause that crash while they are texting than if they were driving drunk.

But what is distracted driving? There are basically three types of distractions: manual (anything we’re physically engaged in behind the wheel besides ‘driving’); visual (looking at billboards, scenery, or anything else besides the roadway in front of us); and cognitive (engaging in conversations with others in our vehicles or on cell phones, or any mental activity that takes our mind off of our driving).

Dr. Guy Winch, of ‘Psychology Today,’ suggests we may get ourselves into trouble when we do too many tasks at once that tax our cognitive abilities, behaviors which can actually harm the brain. His findings revealed that people (especially teens) who were frequent media multitaskers experienced reductions in their brains’ gray matter. Their critical cognitive control functions were compromised, resulting in reduced cognitive and other brain function. If that multitasking involves texting while driving, our reaction time becomes the equivalent to that of someone with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher – the legal equivalent of driving drunk.

Ultimately, when we’re concentrating on electronic or other media that moves our mind off of the moment, we can become cognitively detached from whatever we’re engaged in. If it’s driving, the results could be deadly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly nine people die every day as a result of distracted driving. 21% of teens who were responsible for causing a deadly crash and survived admitted to being distracted by their cell phone immediately prior to the crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) discovered that while 94% of teen drivers recognized the dangers of texting while driving, 35% of them confessed to doing it anyway, a statistic verified by the American Automobile Association (AAA).

With 90% of all crashes being caused by human error (NHTSA), the likelihood of a driver knowingly engaging in those errors causing a crash only increases with the addition of every distraction. Better to play it safe; pull over to the side of the road to make or take that call. For more information on NHTSA’s Distracted Driving Awareness Program, please visit their website for the latest updates and resources on this important national initiative: https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving

About the author: Phillip Haldaman serves as the Transportation Coordinator for Char-Em ISD Transportation.

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