WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, April 1, 2021) –– As traffic begins to pick up across the country with increased vaccinations, and decreased pandemic restrictions, drivers must realize distracted driving escalated amid the pandemic, and grasp the importance of focusing on the road ahead, and not on their smartphones. Distracted driving crashes killed 3,142 people in the United States in 2019, an average of nine deaths per day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That number was up 10 percent from the year before (2,839 deaths in 2018). April is designated National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. AAA Mid-Atlantic is warning drivers of the inherent risks of driving while distracted.
Locally, distracted driving was a factor in 5.4 percent of all traffic fatalities in the nation’s capital in the period from 2016-2019, data from Washington, D.C. reveal. What is more, “data from 2016–2019 crashes
identified distracted driving as a factor for 4.8 percent (5,117) of all crashes (106,619), 6.3 percent (721) of all injuries (11,357), and 5.4 percent (6) of all fatalities (112) in the District.” That’s according to the 2020–2025 District of Columbia Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which was published January 31, 2021.
Data also showed that many drivers who drove distracted were also driving aggressively and impaired, reports the District of Columbia Highway Safety Office. The District concedes: “Unfortunately, it is difficult to obtain reliable statistics on the use of cell phones while driving or using a navigation system or other in-vehicle electronics as a contributor to crashes.”
More than 26,000 people are injured and an average of 181 others die each year on Maryland roads because of distracted driving involved crashes, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration’s (MDOT MVA) Highway Safety Office. Distracted driving contributes to 48 percent of all crashes in the state.
Across the Potomac in Virginia, 120 people died and more than 13,000 were injured on Virginia’s roads in 2019 as a result of distracted driving crashes. Deaths from distracted driving crashes made up nearly 15% of all traffic deaths in the state in 2019. One out of every five injuries in Virginia in 2019 was from a distracted driving related crash, reports the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
“A collision report shows in 2020, phone distraction frequency accelerated 8.1 percent among American drivers amid the March lockdowns, and 7.1 percent during the November virus surge period, comprising a 17 percent increase, November versus January,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Even if drivers use their cell phones to talk, text, or take Zoom calls, or watch videos or TV on their devices, while parked, or stopped at a red light, once they start moving, their mind is still not fully focused on the task of driving. It takes up to 27 seconds for our minds to regain full attention after issuing voice commands to our car’s infotainment system, or talking on our smartphone while driving. This is a dangerous situation that could lead to inattention blindness, where you’re looking at the road, but not seeing what’s in front of you, putting other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians at risk.”
Distracted driving remains a growing traffic safety problem, reveals the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s 2019 Traffic Safety Culture Index. The survey found most drivers (96 percent) believe typing or reading on a hand-held cellphone while driving to be very or extremely dangerous, but 39% admit to reading and 29% admit to typing on a smartphone at least once while behind the wheel within the last month.
Even though using a hand-held device is illegal while driving and while stopped at a red light or stop sign in many states, the survey suggests some drivers do so anyway and aren’t aware of the “hangover effect,” which comes from interacting with technology while on the road. In a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, researchers found drivers can experience a “hangover effect” where the mind stays distracted for up to 27 seconds after using smartphones or voice-to-text vehicle infotainment systems to send text messages, make phone calls or update social media.
In Washington, D.C. “approximately of all drivers who drive distracted and were involved in a crash, 38 percent held a permit in the District, 31 percent were from Maryland, and 13 percent were from Virginia. 10 percent were from other states, and 8 percent were unknown,” reports the District of Columbia Highway Safety Office. The District’s distracted driving law lays it down. It states: “No person shall use a mobile telephone or other electronic device while operating a moving motor vehicle in the District of Columbia unless the telephone or device is equipped with a hands-free accessory.” First offense is a fine of $100, the third offense is a fine of $200 plus a 30–90 day suspension of driving privileges.
All drivers in Maryland are prohibited from using a cellphone without a hands free device while operating a motor vehicle, Maryland law prohibits the use of a handheld cellphone and texting while driving. First-time offenders caught using a cell phone while driving face a maximum of an $83 fine, second-time offenders a maximum of $140 fine and third-time offenders a maximum of $160 fine. These are primary offenses and police officers can stop drivers when those activities are observed, regardless of the presence of other violations. Texting laws prohibit a person from using a text-messaging device to write, send, or read a text or electronic message while operating a motor vehicle. The Maryland State Police issued 16,050 citations and 18,671 warnings for distracted driving violations in 2018.
As of January 1st, 2021, driving with a cell phone in your hand is illegal in Virginia. Violators of the new hands-free law face an initial fine of $125. This year, the Virginia General Assembly voted to require the dangers of distracted driving danger be included as part of driver’s education training for Virginia teens.
AAA Mid-Atlantic encourages all motorists to eliminate distracted driving by following these tips:
- Put it away. Place your mobile device out of sight to prevent temptation.
- Know where you’re going. If using a navigation system, program the destination before driving.
- Pull over. If you must call or text while on the road, pull off the road safely and stop first.
- Ask passengers for help. If riding with someone, seek their help to navigate, make a call or send a message.
- Be a good passenger. Speak out if the driver of your vehicle is distracted.
- Don’t be a distraction. Avoid calling or texting others when you know they are driving.
- Activate Do Not Disturb. Setting up this feature on iPhone or Android device will prevent calls from coming in while you’re driving.
- Everyone should prevent being intexticated. Just as drivers need to pay attention, so do pedestrians and bicyclists. Never call, text or play games while walking or cycling.
This year, AAA continues its distracted driving prevention initiative, titled “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.” The goal of the multi-media initiative is to remind drivers that the consequences of both alcohol-impaired driving and smartphone use behind the wheel could be the same – crashes that result in deaths and injuries. AAA is releasing a new television public service announcement (PSA) which targets drivers who text while they are alone in their vehicle. The PSAs can be viewed here. For more information visit aaa.com/dontdrivedistracted.
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