SPRINGFIELD, MA – The most common is texting. But police officers when handing out tickets have encountered drivers eating, shaving with an electric razor, putting on makeup, and, believe it or not, actually watching a movie on an iPad attached to the steering wheel with Velcro.
The offense is distracted driving and it’s a growing public safety issue, especially for teens. And, despite the lyrics to a popular Beatles’ tune which claim, “It’s getting better all the time,” the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says it isn’t getting better.
On March 25, on the heels of April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month – sponsored by the National Safety Council – the AAA released what some consider the most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers. The research involved analysis of nearly 2,000 videos obtained from cameras mounted in vehicles that captured what teen drivers were doing in the moments leading up to an accident.
The results? Distracted driving is much more of a serious problem than previously known with video analysis pointing to distraction as a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes.
The statistics speak for themselves. The federal government estimates that distraction of adult and teen drivers contributes to 16% of all fatal crashes, resulting in some 5,000 deaths every year.
“If anybody who is a driver tells you they have never texted or talked on their cell phone while driving, they are probably lying. I’ve done it, everyone I know has done it, but nobody is going to admit it,” said Dr. Ronald Gross, chief, Trauma, Acute Care Surgery, and Surgical Critical Care at Baystate Medical Center.
“Reading the newspaper or a map while driving is a distraction. Tuning the radio and setting your GPS while driving are distractions, too. And, don’t think that hands-free devices are any safer. Just the act of talking on the telephone alone is a distraction,” he added.
Texting is an addiction for some people, but they must learn to stop texting while driving, notes Sgt. John Delaney of the Springfield Police Department.
“Nothing is worth risking your life over or causing a horrific accident that kills another person. If someone is texting you or your phone is ringing, it can wait until you pull over and stop in a safe location,” said Sgt. Delaney.
“We’re trying to get that message out and our officers are trained to look for drivers who are texting, then to pull them aside and give them a citation,” he added.
Sgt. Delaney noted that like neighboring Connecticut, he believes in the near future Massachusetts will also ban the use of cell phones while driving.
“You’ve probably heard someone say before that when driving in the snow, they aren’t worried about their driving, but those other cars and trucks flying by them. But, you need to worry about your driving, whether in bad or good weather. We’re driving a 4,000-pound lethal weapon, and if everyone paid full attention to what they are doing behind the wheel and obeyed all the traffic rules, then our highways would be a much safer place,” said Dr. Gross.
Sgt. Delaney reinforced the role parents must play in getting the message across to their teen drivers that texting and driving don’t mix.
“Texting is an inherent part of a young person’s life today. But, when they get their license, they need to remember that it’s not a right, but a privilege to drive in Massachusetts, and they must be taught to drive safely,” said Sgt. Delaney.
“The responsibility is on parents to serve as role models for their kids when it comes to driving and the use of cell phones and texting. Give them the choice, leave your phone at home or lock it in the glove compartment while you are driving. Otherwise, it’s the keys or their phone. And since kids want their freedom, they’ll pick the keys,” he added.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.