The advances made in our current age of technology are undeniably game changers. Communication, no matter how near or far, is literally at our fingertips. We can get immediate answers to questions, dictate texts and emails and tell our phones to call someone on demand, all while keeping our social networks updated in the time it takes to walk into the next room. These advances are conveniences our predecessors would have thought of as science fiction; but these—like all new realities—come with their own set of challenges.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. A designation created in large part to our technological strides in communication. As far as we’ve come in bringing the future of communication to our front doors, we’ve also taken a big step backwards when the actions we take on our devices while behind the wheel are proven to increase crash risk.
The rate of these crashes is increasing, despite individuals “knowing better” than to attempt to watch the road and a cell phone at the same time. The National Safety Council observes April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month to draw attention to this epidemic. Their goal is to empower drivers to put safety first and Just Drive.
To call distracted driving an epidemic is no exaggeration. The number of pedestrians killed on U.S. roads climbed 11% in 2016—the steepest year-to-year increase since record keeping on the matter began, according to preliminary estimates from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
“This is the second year in a row that we have seen unprecedented increases in pedestrian fatalities, which is both sad and alarming,” according to Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, the study’s author.
The increase is expected to set new records in both the number of deaths and the surge in percentage. The study found that an estimated 5,997 pedestrian deaths occurred in 2016 nationwide, compared with 5,376 in 2015 and 4,910 in 2014. That’s a 22% increase in pedestrians killed in 2016 compared to 2014 data.
“It is critical that the highway safety community understand these disturbing statistics and work to aggressively implement effective countermeasures,” Retting said. “The information in this report will help states and localities pursue engineering, enforcement and education solutions to reverse this trend.”
The study cites several reasons for the increase in these incidents, including lower gas prices, a healthier economy and more people seeking personal and planetary wellbeing by walking instead of driving. A major factor, though, is the sharp rise in the use of smartphones to send and receive multimedia messages, a frequent source of mental and visual distraction for both walkers and drivers.
States are using different strategies to increase distracted driving awareness and reduce pedestrian and motor vehicle collisions, including: high visibility enforcement and public information campaigns aimed at both motorists and pedestrians; identifying high-risk zones and conducting educational outreach in these areas; adoption of Complete Streets policies, which ensure streets are safe for all users regardless of mode, age and ability; and strategic partnerships with local universities and community organizations to advance pedestrian safety.
You can create awareness in your workplace, your home and community by sharing the distracted driving message. The National Safety Council offers infographics, a poster, fact sheet and a number of social media-friendly graphics, which you can download here.
Pledge to drive cell free. You can pledge to your children or other loved ones that you will be an attentive driver. Share your pledge on social media if you'd like—just not while you’re driving.
You can also follow these tips offered by AAA to help drivers avoid distracted driving:
- Fully focus on driving. Do not let anything divert your attention.
- Store loose gear and possessions so you do not feel tempted to reach for them on the floor or the seat.
- Make adjustments to mirrors, GPS, sound systems, etc, before you begin your trip.
- Finish dressing and personal grooming before you get on the road.
- Snack smart. If possible, eat before or after your trip, not while driving.
- Secure children and pets before getting underway. If they need your attention, pull off the road safely to care for them.
- Put aside your electronic distractions. Don’t use cell phones while driving—handheld or hands-free—except in absolute emergencies. To avoid temptation, power down or stow electronic devices while you drive.
- If you have passengers, enlist their help so you can focus safely on driving.
As Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director puts it, “…this latest data shows that the U.S. is not meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians (and drivers) safe on our roadways. Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable.”
Sometimes harkening back to the “olden days” can advance us further than the latest technology. In the case of distracted driving, simply waiting until you reach a destination to communicate again can make a life-over-death difference. The next time you climb behind the wheel, put your device away until you get to where you’re going. That way, you and everyone you pass on the road have a much higher chance of arriving home to loved ones, safe and sound.
What are some ways your company is helping to reduce distracted drivinig? Are they working?