In just a split second, a distracted driver can cause an accident that destroys lives. Adjusting a radio, turning to talk to a passenger, or quickly responding to a text may seem harmless at the time. But in that moment of inattention, tragedy can strike.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month in California, and federal and state authorities are working together to educate the public about the dangers of driving while distracted. In 2014 alone, 3,179 people died and 431,000 others were injured in crashes caused by distracted driving across the country. In California, 104 people died and more than 11,000 were injured.
A Cooperative Effort to Save Lives
The awareness month is a joint effort between several agencies:
- The California Highway Patrol.
- The California Office of Traffic Safety.
- Impact Teen Drivers.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- The National Transportation Safety Board.
Throughout the month, the CHP is giving extra attention to cracking down on distracted drivers statewide thanks to a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety. On April 20, state and local law enforcement agencies will participate in a “Zero Tolerance Day” by devoting extra vigilance to the hunt for distracted drivers. The purpose is not simply to write citations, authorities say, but citations sometimes are necessary to persuade citizens to focus on this important issue.
The Problem of Distracted Driving
In addition to beefing up enforcement, California’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign also focuses on educating the public about the dangers of driving while distracted. The campaign has been dubbed “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” Officials hope the educational effort will make a difference in drivers’ behavior year-round.
Distracted driving as a factor in crashes can be difficult to prove, since many drivers won’t admit to having been distracted. In California, dozens of fatal crashes have been attributed to distracted driving over the past few years: at least 84 in 2013, 85 in 2014, and 67 in 2015. The actual number of fatal crashes caused by distracted drivers likely is higher, authorities say.
Nationwide, 10 percent of fatalities and 18 percent of injuries in vehicle accidents are blamed on distracted driving. Officials believe that distracted driving plays some role in 80 percent of accidents on the nation’s roadways.
Crashes can happen in the blink of an eye. If you’re traveling at 55 miles per hour and take your eyes off the road for just five seconds, your vehicle can go the length of a football field. In most crashes, you have less than two seconds to react.
Cell Phone Use More Prevalent Than Reported
Law enforcement authorities say distracted driving is a growing problem, especially as the use of smartphones continues to increase. At any given moment, experts estimate, as many as 10 percent of drivers are using mobile devices.
Distracted driving includes any activity that causes you to take your eyes off the road, but smartphone use is the most notorious — and potentially the most deadly — activity. Few other distractions consume vision, thought and physical reaction time all at once and for such long periods.
In California, if you’re caught texting or talking on a cell phone while you drive, you’ll be cited and will have to pay a fine of $76 for a first offense. A second offense will cost you $190. If your distracted driving causes an accident, the penalties could be much worse.
Cell Phone Laws in California
In California, use of a handheld cell phone is banned for drivers of any age. In addition, bus drivers are not allowed to use either handheld or hands-free cell phones. The same goes for drivers under the age of 18. Drivers of any age are prohibited from texting.
But even using a cell phone in a hands-free mode may not be entirely safe. Experts say that the act of talking on a phone — whether or not it’s in your hand — can cause “inattention blindness,” blocking your brain from comprehending what’s happening in front of you. Drivers in this state don’t realize they’re impaired.
Eliminating Distracted Driving
What can you do to reduce the chances of causing an accident due to distracted driving? The state’s Office of Traffic Safety offers these tips:
- Never text while you’re driving. In fact, turn off your phone when you’re behind the wheel.
- Don’t text or call someone else if they’re driving.
- If something falls on the floor, pull over safely to retrieve it.
- Don’t eat or drink while driving.
- Don’t program your GPS or other gadgets while driving.
- Don’t read, watch videos or do personal grooming behind the wheel.