You and your family are driving to Grandma’s for Easter weekend. You’re at the wheel and get a call from a relative asking about your arrival. You answer what should be a quick question but then get caught up in the conversation that lasts for several minutes. While this might seem like an innocent situation, you are driving distracted and putting your entire family and others on the road at risk.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the National Safety Council estimates that the total motor-vehicle deaths in the U.S. for 2021 were 46,020, up 9% from 42,339 in 2020 and 18% from 39,107 in 2019. On a typical day, eight people are killed, and hundreds more are injured in distraction-affected crashes.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the US Department of Transportation have been focusing more and more on the dangers of distracted driving. While not always to blame, distraction among drivers has increased with the abundant use of portable electronic devices.
The NTSB has investigated many fatal crashes that demonstrate the danger of using these devices while operating a vehicle (including planes, trains, and vessels). Talking hands-free on a cell phone led to a seasoned motor coach driver colliding with a bridge, pilots have overflown their destinations because they were distracted by their laptops, and the use of portable electronic devices while driving has led to an increased number of crashes and an increased number of deaths.
Distraction is complicated, and transportation researchers are still learning what the human brain can and cannot handle. But they know that crash risk increases when an operator uses a portable electronic device. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recommendation is to remove all portable electronic devices that do not directly support the task of driving. Below are some ways they suggest this can realistically be accomplished:
- States and regulators can set the proper tone by banning the nonessential use of such devices in transportation.
- Companies should develop and enforce policies to eliminate distractions for employees who spend time on the road.
- Manufacturers can develop technology that disables devices when in reach of vehicle operators.
- Crash investigators at the Federal, state, and local levels should incorporate into their protocols a system for checking whether the nonessential use of portable electronic devices led to crashes. This information is essential to identify safety issues better and find where to dedicate resources to stop this dangerous behavior.
- Because young inexperienced drivers are more likely to use portable electronic devices while behind the wheel, laws, education, and enforcement should emphasize curbing the use of portable electronic devices by these drivers.
Whether traveling near or far as we head into Easter weekend, consider turning your phone off and placing it out of reach to avoid distracted driving. And while you are at it, don’t drive when you are drowsy. Instead, pull over to a safe place, make your phone calls and take a nap. A refreshed and attentive driver is the safest kind.