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Can We Beat Driver Distraction?

Distracted driving. This month you will be hearing and reading a lot about driver distraction and for good reason. The NSC (National Safety Council) actually observes April as distracted driving awareness month. The purpose of the NSC’s annual awareness campaign is to draw greater attention to this problem in our society and to empower individuals and employers to put safety first.

The NSC has champion safety programs for years. It provides sharable online resources about distracted driving and its states the obvious consequences. It also offers a pledge that indicates your promise to do one and only one thing while you’re behind the wheel—drive.

In this blog and on my radio show I have been focusing on some of the more unique campaigns that the various states and law enforcement agencies are implementing to help crack down on distracted driving and improve road safety.

I would suspect most drivers have had the urge to pick up a smartphone while driving at one point or another. However, imagine for a second that you’re behind the wheel and you hear that ding—a text message just came in on your smartphone. At this moment, you briefly try to resist, but then you can’t help yourself and you make the decision to send a very quick text. You’ve got this. You read the message. You send the text.

It seems relatively important at the time, and you decide to send a reply. It’s that easy. You risk your life and others by taking your hands, eyes, and mind off the task of driving. For that instance, you get lucky. Nothing horrific happens … this time. Suddenly, you see police lights behind you. But it’s not your typical police vehicle, it’s a hearse, and it’s pulling you over?

This actually happened to people in Toronto last month who were caught using handheld devices behind the wheel. As part of an anti-distracted-driving campaign called “That Text or Call Could End It All,” the Toronto police department used an undercover police hearse, to help drive home the point that driving distracted can be a fatal mistake.

The weeklong campaign is an annual event for the Toronto police department, with its first year being 2014. The hearse has apparently been used every year except last year, when the icy February weather was deemed too dangerous for hearse driving.

The real question is whether a hearse is too dramatic? Most people might just consider this a morbid scare tactic. Or is it a smart wake-up call? In next week’s blog I will explore the fatalities and injuries in greater depth, but the real point here is how do we, as a society, get drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel? But it’s really hard to dispute that distracted driving is an incredibly deadly habit.

Drivers who are willing to put their lives, your lives, and the lives of your children at risk to send a text message might be offended, but we need to consider the risks of the many versus the sentiment of a few who might be offended. It’s time we all wake up and face reality.

Candidly, getting pulled over by a hearse just might be the perfect wake-up call that many drivers need and then getting slapped with a hefty fine for driving distracted. That’s what you call a double whammy. That hearse-driving police officer may have ruined someone’s day, but he may have saved a life, because the fined driver may think twice next time.

It seems cities and police forces all around the world are recognizing the distracted-driving problem and cracking down. Canada in general is doing some really good things.

For instance, the Canadian Coalition on distracted driving runs an ongoing campaign called “Drop it and Drive.” Drop it and Drive focuses on youth and employee education programs that leverage science and real-life stories. But the coalition also recognizes the solution must go beyond education.

To that end, the coalition recently pushed through a new 15-point national plan to combat distracted driving. This campaign includes 15 actions in categories such as education and prevention, enforcement, data and research, and technology and industry.

Across the pond, in London, another crackdown caught more than 2,700 motorists inappropriately using devices while driving. They didn’t use a hearse, rather London police used undercover cars and lorries to catch offenders who clearly hadn’t gotten the memo yet. In an interview with a local news source, one London patrol officer said that during the operation, he came across one driver who was using both hands to send an email on his iPad.

In Maryland, a cooperative effort was designed to crack down and draw attention to the distracted driving issue, police came up with “Operation Trojan Horse.” Police used Maryland transportation authority dump trucks, as well as marked and unmarked patrol cars, to catch distracted drivers who were driving along a portion of I-95.

Once offenders were pulled over, troopers and officers made it a point to educate the drivers about the violation and the dangers of distracted driving. The operation resulted in 113 citations and 111 warnings; in other words, it reached a lot of people.

Even in Arizona, the Arizona Dept. of Transportation ran a safety message contest to get people talking about the driving behaviors as socially unacceptable as smoking indoors in public places or not wearing a seat belt.

All of these examples are raising more awareness and discussion around distracted-driving awareness month. Every effort is just another great way to involve the public in a conversation that really needs to happen: how do we get more people to think about what they’re doing behind the wheel?

It’s only working together that we can solve one of the biggest epidemics in this country, as we continue to explore the distracted-driving problem, as well as potential solutions.

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By | 2017-04-03T13:10:30+00:00 4/5/2017|

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