Distracted driving awareness was focus of 6th annual summit

Distracted DrivingDrive Smart Virginia wants drivers to get behind the wheel distraction-free. That was the message at the sixth annual Distracted Driving Summit, which was held Sept. 19 and 20 in Richmond.

“This summit is a wonderful gathering of insurance professionals, law enforcement, researchers and others who are truly concerned about the epidemic of distracted driving,” noted Darlene Wells, executive vice president and general manager of Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and a member of the Drive Smart Virginia board of directors.

Brian Moran, the Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said the issue of distracted driving is like “blocking and tackling. Why can’t we reduce the traffic deaths in the commonwealth?”

Moran noted that Gov. Ralph Northam is “very concerned about distracted driving—it is an important issue to him,” especially given his background as a pediatric doctor.

Col. Gary Settle, superintendent of the Virginia State Police and a member of the Drive Smart Virginia board, echoed Moran’s sentiments. He said Northam declared April Highway Safety Month because “he is really concerned about this issue.” Settle said it’s impressive that the governor devoted an entire month to traffic safety.

“We are chasing technology every day,” Settle explained. “We all plan an integral role in moving this forward. It’s a collective effort across the board. It can’t just be law enforcement to fix the issue.”

Distracted driving is not only an issue for those in cars—it also can be a problem for pedestrians. Many people are engaging in distracted behavior while walking, and there is a rising number of pedestrian fatalities, explained Russ Martin, director of government relations for the Governors Highway Safety Association.

He said more people are walking—4 million people—which is a 4 percent increase since 2007. Arizona has the highest number of pedestrian deaths, and he said most deaths occur in urban areas. Most pedestrian deaths occur in travel lanes—72 percent—while 10 percent occur in non-travel lanes, and 18 percent on the interstate.

“More are occurring away from pedestrian safety areas, and more are occurring at night,” Martin said. He noted that inattention on the part of drivers and pedestrians, as well as impairment, is a problem. Thirty-four percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred when the person was impaired by alcohol.

For more information visit drivesmartva.org.

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