Local authorities joined forces the month of April with law enforcement across the nation to encourage citizens to silence the distractions for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
The California Office of Traffic Safety, California Highway Patrol and Impact Teen Drivers banded together this month to help educate motorists of the importance of traveling free of distractions.
“Distracted driving is anything that takes your mind off the road and takes your eyes off the road,” said Josh Greengard, public information officer for the CHP in Newhall. “The cell phone is always the biggest one.”
Distracted driving laws have been around since 2008. Drivers are not allowed to hold any electronic wireless communications devices while in transit under the 2017 hands-free cell phone law.
According to the CHP, they issued more than 109,000 citations for violations of the hands-free cell phone laws in 2018.
Nearly 66 people were killed and more than 6,500 injured in 2017 from distracted driving-related crashes according to preliminary data from the CHP.
Officer Greengard explained that the average text takes about three to four seconds to write and send.
“If you’re on the freeway doing 65 miles an hour you’re doing 88 to 90 feet per second,” Greengard said, “so in that three to four seconds you just traveled a football field, 300 yards, blindfolded.”
Cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle is not the only form of distracted driving, Greengard explained that it can be anything from having dogs or passengers in the car, playing with the radio, eating, grooming or putting on makeup.
Officer Greengard debunked the misconception that, while stopped at a light, it is safe to check your phone, reach over to grab something, enter information into the GPS, among other things.
He also made it clear that any form of diversions while waiting for the light to turn green is still illegal.
“It’s not okay to do it, your vehicle is still in transit, it is still in the middle of the roadway and it is not safe,” said Greengard. “You still need to be aware of your surroundings.”
There was a 27 percent increase in motorists seen with a cell phone from 2017 in a 2018 observational study conducted by the OTS on driver cell phone use.
“Cell phones are working against us in the fight against distracted driving,” said Rhonda Craft, OTS director. “The hope is that a combination of education and enforcement will drive people to change bad behaviors for the better.”
Impact Teen Drivers, an organization created to help teens reduce their risk of being involved in accidents caused by distractions and inexperienced decision making, partnered with other safety organizations across California in an effort to educate teen drivers on the consequences of reckless and distracted driving.
“Each year, we could fill eight large yellow school buses with the number of teens we lose to preventable car crashes in California alone,” Impact Teen Drivers’ Executive Director Dr. Kelly Browning said.
Distracted driving is the primary cause of crashes involving teen drivers. Last year, nearly 50 percent of teen driving fatalities were teen passengers with another teen at the wheel.
“It’s a good time to remind everyone that we need to always keep two hands on the wheel, two eyes on the road, and most importantly keep our mind focused on driving,” Browning said.