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NSC aims to bring awareness to risks of distracted driving


April 24, 2014
SPRINGFIELD – Multitasking may be a good skill when you’re working in an office, but when you’re behind the wheel of a car on the highway, then multitasking – such as text messaging while driving – can take a dangerous turn.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Safety Council (NSC), and Baystate Medical Center and the Springfield Police Department are joining the NSC in getting the word out about the dangers of driving while distracted.

The statistics speak for themselves:

• A 2012 survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that more than two in three drivers report talking on their cell phone while driving at least once in the past 30 days. And, nearly one in three people say they did this “fairly often” or “regularly.”

• Nationally, more than 3,000 people die each year in car crashes in which distraction was conclusively demonstrated to be a factor. Also, an estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012. (U.S. Department of Transportation)

• Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while text messaging. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)

“If anybody who is a driver tells you they have never texted or talked on their cell phone while driving, they are probably lying. I’ve done it, everyone I know has done it, but nobody is going to admit it,” Dr. Ronald Gross, chief, Trauma, Acute Care Surgery, and Surgical Critical Care at Baystate Medical Center, said.

But, while text messaging is most often associated with distracted driving, it’s not just cell phone use that’s the culprit. Anything that takes your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel, or takes your mind off driving is a distraction, Gross noted.

“Eating or drinking is a distraction, as is reading the newspaper or a map while driving. I’ve even seen people driving down the road who are shaving or putting on their makeup while looking in the rearview mirror. Setting your GPS while driving is a distraction, too. And, don’t think that hands-free devices are any safer. Just the act of talking on the telephone alone is a distraction,” he added.

Text messaging is an addiction for some people, but they must learn to stop text messaging while driving, Sgt. John Delaney of the Springfield Police Department noted.

“Nothing is worth risking your life over or causing a horrific accident that kills another person. If someone is texting you or your phone is ringing, it can wait until you pull over and stop in a safe location,” Delaney said.

“We’re trying to get that message out and our officers are trained to look for drivers who are texting, then to pull them aside and give them a citation,” he added.

Ten percent of all drivers younger than the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, this age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.

“Texting is an inherent part of a young person’s life today. But, when they get their license, they need to remember that it’s not a right, but a privilege to drive in Massachusetts, and they must be taught to drive safely,” Delaney said.

“The responsibility is on parents to serve as role models for their kids when it comes to driving and the use of cell phones. Give them the choice, leave your phone at home or lock it in the glove compartment while you are driving. Otherwise, it’s the keys or their phone. And since kids want their freedom, they’ll pick the keys,” he added.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, distracted driving laws in 12 states (including neighboring Connecticut, but not Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia (including Massachusetts) also ban text messaging for all drivers.

Delaney noted that like neighboring Connecticut, he believes in the near future Massachusetts will also ban the use of cell phones while driving.

“You’ve probably heard someone say before that when driving in the snow, they aren’t worried about their driving, but those other cars and trucks flying by them. But, you need to worry about your driving, whether in bad or good weather. We’re driving a 4,000-pound lethal weapon, and if everyone paid full attention to what they are doing behind the wheel and obeyed all the traffic rules, then our highways would be a much safer place,” Gross said.



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