Campaign urges motorists to minimize distractions

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, April 20, 2021

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Whether it’s answering a phone call, interacting with passengers or finishing breakfast in the car during your morning commute, distractions are a daily occurrence for most drivers.

As harmless as these actions may seem, the smallest distractions can cause dire consequences. Each April, Distracted Driving Awareness Month reminds motorists to avoid dangerous activities that could divert their attention from driving.

According to collision data from Virginia’s Traffic Records Electronic Data System, distracted driving contributed to 18,816 crashes and 121 fatal accidents in 2020. Those figures represent 17.8% of all crashes and 14.2% of all fatalities on Virginia roadways.

In response, Drive Smart Virginia is encouraging motorists to continue minimizing distractions behind the wheel through its “Buckle Up, Phone Down” campaign.

“When drivers engage in activities that cause them to lose their focus, they’re putting their lives in danger as well as those of their passengers and fellow motorists,” said David Tenembaum, actuarial manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and a board member of Drive Smart Virginia.

“Like any other accident, crashes caused by distracted driving can happen in an instant. It’s important for drivers to pay close attention to the road and their surroundings to avoid these unfortunate accidents.”

Drive Smart Virginia defines distracted driving as any activity that takes a driver’s attention from the road. This includes cellphone use, adjusting audio or climate controls, grooming or operating a navigation system.

Virginia law now prohibits drivers from handling cellphones while driving, but studies show using hands-free technology comes with its own dangers.

A study conducted by the University of Utah found that it can take drivers up to 27 seconds to gain full attention after issuing a voice command. Additionally, modern vehicles’ touchscreen displays which serve as a second screen for connected devices can create distractions similar to those caused by hand-held gadgets.

“While we’re grateful Virginia legislators have taken an important step in addressing this epidemic with a ban on hand-held cellphone use, there’s still much work to be done by our state’s drivers,” Tenembaum added. “With technology here to stay, it’s our collective responsibility to understand its inherent hazards, avoid dangerous behaviors behind the wheel and keep our focus on making our roads a safer place.”