By MELINDA WILLIAMS
With 80 percent of Virginia crashes being caused by distracted drivers, Pulaski Police Department is joining DRIVE SMART Virginia in supporting Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.
Officer Megan Jennings said the police department is issuing a call to all drivers in Pulaski to avoid distractions such as cell phones, radios, GPS devices, eating and even passengers, when driving.
“With the number of people I see focused on a phone, and not on the road, distracted driving has really turned into a serious problem,” said Jennings. “I worry about traffic safety every day and I wonder when people will begin to realize the true dangers of distracted driving?”
When drivers buckle up, they need to put their phones down, she said.
To draw attention to the problem of distracted drivers, April has been designated by DRIVE SMART Virginia as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
“We work all year to educate Virginia drivers on the dangers of distracted driving,” said Janet Brooking, DRIVE SMART’s executive director. “During April, we work to reach local businesses, state agencies, schools, municipalities and community leaders to help us spread the word that distracted driving affects us all.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,331 people were killed in crashes caused by a distracted driver in the United States in 2011. That was a 2 percent increase over 2010 figures.
In Virginia in 2012, a distracted driver caused 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes. Although the number of traffic crashes and injuries decreased by 11 and 7 percent respectively during 2012, the number of fatalities, 773, rose a percent.
Jennings said many people think it’s alright to quickly send or read a text message because it only takes a few seconds, but the average text (five seconds) takes a driver’s eyes off the road for the equivalent of the entire length of a football field.
Just talking on a cell phone is distracting. According to NHTSA, cell phone users are 18 percent slower to take action when seeing brake lights.
“All drivers need to do is turn their phone off when they’re driving, or hand their phone to a passenger,” said Brooking. “Motorists need to realize they can’t multi-task behind the wheel. When you’re driving, paying attention to the road is your job and your responsibility.”
“That’s the best solution,” said Jennings, “if you can’t turn the phone off, then put it in the glove compartment or out of reach. We would like to see fewer drivers using a phone when they’re driving.”
Other tips to help avoid distractions include setting GPS devices before driving, not during; eat inside a restaurant, not the car; avoid turning around to tend to children while driving, and remind other passengers of the dangers of being distracted.
For more information on distracted driving, visit www.drivesmartva.org.