LAW ENFORCEMENT TAKING ACTION AGAINST DISTRACTION BEHIND THE WHEEL
— Drivers texting, talking, eating, reading, fiddling with the radio, shaving — and involved in other distracting actions — will be the focus of law enforcement during an educational push coupled with enhanced enforcement effort during the month of April.
Driver distraction is a leading factor in crashes in Minnesota, accounting for at least 20 percent of all crashes annually, resulting in 70 deaths and 350 injuries. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety reports these numbers are vastly underreported due to the challenges of determining “distraction” as a contributing crash factor.
Across the state a special enforcement campaign will have a comprehensive focus on all distractions behind the wheel, beyond cell phone use and texting. “Driving may seem like a routine, and as a result, drivers turn their attention away from the road,” says Jon Cummings, founder of MSD. “The reality is situations on the road can change in an instant, and if you become distracted, your routine drive will turn into a rush to the ER.”
In Minnesota it is illegal for drivers to read or compose texts/emails, and access the Web on a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic, such as at a stoplight. It is illegal for drivers under age 18 to use a cell phone at any time. Other laws address a driver’s “duty to drive with due care.”
There are four main types of driver distraction.
- Visual — looking away from the road.
- Mechanical/Physical — taking hands off the wheel: manipulation of controls, such as dialing a cell phone or adjusting radio or music device.
- Cognitive — being “lost in thought,” or focusing on a conversation, resulting in withdrawing from situational awareness.
- A combination of these — reading a map or texting while driving.
Distractions cause drivers to react more slowly to traffic conditions or events, such as a vehicle stopping or pulling out in traffic. A University of Utah study reports that using a cell phone while driving, whether hands-free or hand-held, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having an alcohol-concentration level of 0.08 percent. And when texting, drivers take their eyes off the road for up to 4.6 out of every 6 seconds — equivalent to traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph hours without looking up.
DPS offers these tips to minimize distractions:
- Cell phones — turn off cell phones, or place them out of reach to avoid the urge to dial or answer. If a passenger is present, ask them to handle calls/texts.
- Music and other controls — pre-program favorite radio stations for easy access and arrange music (mp3 player/CDs/tapes) in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and heat/AC before traveling, or ask a passenger to assist.
- Navigation — designate a passenger to serve as a co-pilot to help with directions. If driving alone, map out destinations in advance; pull over to check a map, if necessary.
- Eating and drinking — if you cannot avoid food/beverage, at least avoid messy foods, and be sure food and drinks are secured.
- Children — teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle; do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to children while driving.
- If you’re a passenger, speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior and volunteer to handle music/other controls and answer phone calls/texts.
- If making/receiving a call to/from someone driving, ask them to call back when they are not behind the wheel.
The distracted driving enforcement and education effort is a component of the state’score traffic safety initiative,Toward Zero Deaths (TZD).A primary vision of theTZDprogram is to sculpt a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior.TZDfocuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes — education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response.
Don’t Thumb It Up.
Watch faces of distracted driving