Motorists reminded to limit distractions while behind the wheel

Published 8:06 am Thursday, April 14, 2022

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In the five seconds it takes to respond to a text, sweep on a coat of mascara or unwrap a breakfast sandwich, a vehicle moving at 55 mph can travel the length of a football field. Succumbing to those common distractions is like driving that distance blindfolded, highway safety experts say.

Distracted driving is a leading cause of crashes in the U.S. Each day, nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in distracted driving crashes. In Virginia, distracted driving contributed to 20,918 collisions and 117 fatal crashes throughout 2021, according to the Virginia Traffic Records Electronic Data System.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and Drive Smart Virginia is encouraging motorists to eliminate distractions behind the wheel through its “Buckle Up, Phone Down” campaign.

Distracted driving of any kind increases crash risks for drivers, passengers and fellow motorists, said David Tenembaum, actuarial manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and a DSV board member.

“Distracted driving is a tremendous problem,” he said. “We’re asking all drivers to make a distraction-free driving commitment during April and to adopt that practice moving forward.”

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported on which distracted behaviors are the most dangerous. Texting tops the list — increasing crash risk by 23 times. Reaching for moving objects inside the car is a nine-time risk increase. Drowsy driving, rubbernecking, reading and applying makeup also made the list.

Virginia law now prohibits drivers from handling cellphones while driving, but studies show hands-free technology isn’t distraction-proof either.

“While there are many ways a driver can be distracted, handheld phone use is the most egregious, as it involves all three kinds of distraction — manual, visual and cognitive,” Tenembaum added. “For this reason, we encourage all drivers to put the phone down and concentrate on the important task of driving.”

To limit distractions, motorists are advised to program GPS and hands-free devices before leaving the driveway. Pull over to a safe place when doing something that will take your eyes or mind off the road. Concentrate on driving — don’t drive when upset or too tired.

When free of distractions, a driver can be prepared for the unpredictability of motorists who may be distracted themselves.

“Make sure that everyone is properly buckled,” Tenembaum said. “That’s your best defense against distracted drivers.”