April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month and your fellow road users want you to put down your cell phone, burrito, mascara and dog, and focus all your attention on the safe operation of your motor vehicle.
Check out this You Tube link forwarded to Street Smarts by Piet Canin of Ecology Action, a non-profit group that promotes sustainable living and commuting: http://www.bikeleague.org/blog/2010/03/house-passes-resolution-april-as-distracted-driving-awareness-month/.
“During my last couple of vacations, I met bike shop employees who were hit by cars driven by motorists talking on the phone, said Canin, an avid cyclist. “One cyclist in Bend, Oregon was in the hospital and still recovering after the driver swerved into the bike lane hitting the cyclist. In Maui, a cyclist was run into by a motorist who didn’t stop at the stop sign because he was distracted by his phone call. The Maui cyclist was back at work but had a very severe looking scar from his belly up to his chest.”
Indeed, distracted driving is a problem on the nation’s roads, according to www.distraction.gov, a government sponsored Web site aimed at battling the issue.
In 2008, 5,870 people lost their lives and 515,000 others were injured in traffic collisions that involved a distracted driver, the site reported. Reports of inattentive driving at the time of fatal crashes jumped 3-percent from 8-percent in 2004 to 11-percent in 2008. And people under 20, as well as those driving motorcycles and light trucks had the highest percentage of distracted drivers at the time of fatal crashes.
California and Santa Cruz County are not immune to distracted driving and their impacts.
“Unfortunately, I have really noticed an increase in cell phone and/or texting use by drivers on the road after a noticeable reduction of this practice during the first few months or so after the California ‘hands-free’ law went into effect in July 2008,” said Katie LeBaron, of the county Health Services Agency’s Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Programs.
Drivers probably ignore the law, she said, “mostly because it’s still the norm and a lot of drivers just don’t associate the behavior with the very real possibility of killing themselves or others on the road.”
The fact that drivers don’t see the dangers of distracted driving bothers the California Highway Patrol.
“The safe operation of a motor vehicle is multitasking in and of itself,” said Fran Clader, a spokeswoman based in the agency’s Sacramento headquarters. “Motorists need to focus on the road.”
That focus on the road includes reading signs, watching out for other road users, and adjusting for changing weather and road conditions, she said.
According to statistics from the California Highway Patrol, one person locally and 152 people statewide died in crashes that involved an inattentive driver in 2008, the most recent statistics available. Those deaths occurred in collisions in which the driver was reportedly using their cell phone handheld and hands-free, manipulating the radio or other electronic equipment, such as a navigation device; smoking; eating; reading; performing some sort of hygiene or districted by children, animals or some other issue in the vehicle.
What can you do about distracted driving?
“Put it down,” said Distraction.gov, and launch an education effort in your schools, community groups and workplaces.
Parties involved in collisions involving distracted drivers in 2008
Santa Cruz County
Property Damage: 213
Property Damage: 16,915
Things drivers were doing at the time of the crash in Santa Cruz County, 2008
Cell Phone Handheld – Injury: 1; Property Damage Only:19
Cell Phone Hands Free – Injury: 1
Electronic Equipment - Property Damage Only: 1
Radio/CD Player – Injury: 6; Property Damage Only: 3
Smoking – Injury: 2
Eating – Injury: 1; Property Damage Only: 6
Children – Injury: 1; Property Damage Only: 4
Animal – Injury: 2; Property Damage Only: 2
Hygiene – Property Damage Only: 1
Reading – Injury: 1; Property Damage Only: 2
Other* – Fatal: 1; Injury: 44; Property Damage Only: 89
Inattention Not Stated - Injury: 46; Property Damage Only: 86
*Note: Other things inattentive drivers may have been doing include daydreaming, fighting a bee in the car or looking for a street sign.
Source: California Highway Patrol