Distracted Driving is Dangerous. A distracted driver is a dangerous driver. If a driver’s attention is focused on anything, but driving, it is considered distracted driving. Examples of distracted driving include texting, talking, reading, eating, drinking, applying make-up, styling hair, changing the radio station, GPS, or temperature, etc. A driver who is distracted could miss a turn, not safely signal before turning or changing lanes, or even miss a bicyclist, pedestrian, or another car and cause a collision. One of four accidents in the U.S. are caused by texting while driving. Some other noteworthy statistics:
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) people take their eyes off the road for 4.5 seconds to read or write a text. At 55 mph, the driver is essentially driving the length of a football field with their eyes closed. Cell phone use is highest among 16-24 year olds. In 2015, distracted drivers claimed 3,477 lives and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
Laws concerning distracted driving are governed by each state. On April 27, 2017, Arizona Governor Ducey, signed into law, SB1080. The legislation bans texting or other cellphone use by drivers with only a learner’s permit or during the first six months teenagers have a regular license. Ducey approved the bill and said in a signing letter that he’d go farther and ban texting for all minors. The legislation marks the first time in years the Legislature has approved a bill addressing cellphone use and distracted driving. Arizona is one of just four states without blanket bans on texting while driving.
On June 1, 2017, Pima County cracked down on distracted drivers. A person may not use any handheld device while driving unless it’s specifically designed to allow hands-free use. So, if you are driving in Tucson (or anywhere in Pima County) is it not only illegal to text, but to make calls, check email, browse the internet or use your phone in general.
In cases involving fatal crashes, prosecutors are retrieving the driver’s phone records to determine if the driver was texting during the time of the crash. If the distracted driver causes a fatality, the sentence could include probation, fines and fees, and several years in prison depending on how the case is charged.
Parents should always lead by example. Never drive if distracted. Instead, pull over to the side of the road to deal with the distraction. Also, speak with your child about distracted driving and all of the responsibilities associated with driving. Further, the NHTSA recommends having family members sign a pledge to commit to distraction-free driving. The NHTSA website contains a lot of literature and safe driving campaigns that can be downloaded at no cost. If we can use the early years of their driving experience as an opportunity to guide our teens toward safe and responsible habits, that’s a good thing. Teens can be the messengers with their peers, so encourage your teen (& tween- it’s never too early) to speak up when they see a friend driving while distracted and to share messages on social media that remind their friends, family, and neighbors not to make the deadly choice to drive distracted.
A popular safety reminder is “Texting Thumb Bands” which can be purchased online. Wearing the thumb band will remind kids each time they reach for their phone that if they are driving, it’s a bad idea to be texting. Several celebrities are supporting the thumb bands and other items such as bracelets are also available. Finally, there are several apps parents can use to either turn their children’s phones off while they are driving or to generate an automatic reply. Do a search online for apps to prevent texting while driving to learn about available apps, depending on your child’s phone and model. There are apps that can be used to block incoming messages and calls while your child is driving. Also, there are apps that can be used to send automatic replies to incoming text messages such as, “I am driving and cannot text. I will return your message soon.” As a parent, being aware of the risks associated with distracted driving will help you determine how to best communicate with your child and help prevent your teenage driver from engaging in it. Safe driving means driving without distractions.
Adena Astrowsky is a prosecutor and author of Mother of Souls, The Story of a Holocaust Survivor. She recently received an Amazing Women award from the Phoenix Suns and National Bank of Arizona for her professional and philanthropic work. She lives in Scottsdale with her husband and three children.