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April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

April is a perfect time to pledge to avoid personal electronic device usage while driving.  Because of the growing dangers of cell phone use and other ped use while driving, National Distracted Driving Awareness Month was introduced and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 to raise the public’s consciousness of these dangers. The resolution mentions 9-year-old Erica Forney, who was struck and killed by a distracted driver in Fort Collins, CO, in November 2008.

We have written often in this blog about the growing problem of distracted driving and last month the National Transportation Safety Board held a forum in Washington D.C.  entitled “Attentive Driving: Countermeasures for Distraction” to address this issue.

Experts were invited from state and federal government, the vehicle manufacturers, safety advocacy groups, law enforcement personnel and the research community to discuss specific ways to counteract distracted driving and the resultant dangers of serious vehicle accidents.

By way of history, one of the first reported “distracted driving” accidents caused by a personal electronic device happened  nearly a decade ago when, when a young driver, distracted by her cell phone, veered off a  highway in Maryland, crossed the median and flipped, landing on top of a minivan and killing five.

Since then the NTSB has investigated distraction-related accidents and incidents across all modes of transportation.  Some examples follow:

In 2004, a  motorcoach driver, distracted on his hands-free cell-phone, struck the underside of an arched stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia.  Of the 27 high school students on board, 11 were injured.

In 2008, a commuter train engineer, who had a history of using his cell phone for personal communications while on duty, ran a red signal while texting. That train collided head on with a freight train — killing 25 and injuring dozens.

In 2009, two airline pilots were out of radio communication with air traffic control for more than an hour because they were distracted by their personal laptops. They overflew their destination by more than 100 miles, only realizing their error when a flight attendant inquired about preparing for arrival.

In Philadelphia in 2010, a tugboat mate failed to maintain a proper lookout due to repeated use of a cell phone and laptop. The barge that the tugboat was towing ran over an amphibious “duck boat,” killing two.of a cell-phone and laptop computer.

In 2010, a tractor truck driver distracted by the use of his cell phone, crossed the median and collided with a 15-passenger van.  The accident resulted in 11 fatalities.

Following are some facts related to distracted driving and its dangers:

• According to the National Safety Council, drivers using cell phones look but fail to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment.

• A recent Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers found that a safety-critical event is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, e-mailing, or accessing the Internet.

• Researchers for the New England Journal of Medicine found that a person using a cell-phone when driving is 4 times more likely to have a crash that will result in going to the hospital.

• AAA Mid-Atlantic reports that approximately 210,000 individuals drive on the Capital Beltway each day – and more than half do so while distracted by cell phones.

• According to a NHTSA observational survey, at a typical daytime moment in 2010, 5 percent of drivers (or 660,000) were using a handheld cell-phone.

• In a nationally represented survey of 2,000 U.S. residents conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 69 percent reported talking on their cell-phones while driving within the past 30 days and 24 percent admitted to texting or e-mailing while driving.

• In a nationally representative telephone survey of 6,002 conducted for NHTSA, 77 percent of respondents indicated they are willing to answer a call while driving on at least some driving trips. Not only do they answer, but 66 percent keep driving and 45 percent hold the phone in their hand when they do.

• A 2010 NHTSA demonstration program using high-visibility enforcement in Syracuse and Hartford resulted in decreases in handheld use and texting.

• Over the past 8 years, the NTSB has issued 18 safety recommendations related to distractions from portable electronic devices: Aviation: 1 , Highway: 10 , Marine: 6 , Rail: 1.

Please use April as a time to remind yourself and others of the serious dangers and consequences of cell phone use while driving.

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