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Return to the road requires awareness of distracted driving dangers

distracted driving
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According to data from the Virginia DMV, 120 people died and more than 13,000 were injured on Virginia’s roads in 2019 as a result of distracted driving crashes.

As traffic begins to pick up across the country with increased vaccinations and decreased pandemic restrictions, AAA Mid-Atlantic reminds drivers about the importance of focusing on the road ahead during National Distracted Driving Awareness month.

Deaths from distracted driving crashes made up nearly 15 percent of all traffic deaths in the state. One out of every five traffic injuries in Virginia in 2019 was from a distracted driving related crash. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that distracted driving crashes killed 3,142 people in the United States in 2019, an average of 9 deaths per day.

That number was up 10 percent from the year before (2,839 deaths in 2018).

The pandemic meant fewer cars on the roads with lockdowns and restrictions, but it didn’t diminish the risk of dying in a crash on Virginia’s roads. In fact, in 2020 there was a slight increase in distracted driving-related crash deaths, with one more death being recorded on Virginia’s roads than the year before.

Distracted driving remains a growing traffic safety problem, according to 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 percent admit to reading and 29 percent admit to typing on a smartphone at least once while behind the wheel within the last month. Virginia is putting the brakes on smartphone distractions.

As of Jan. 1, 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 teens.

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.

“Even if drivers perform some of these tasks while parked, or stopped at a red light, once you start moving, and even after you stop using the technology, your mind is still not fully focused on the task of driving for up to 27 seconds,” said Martha Meade, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Virginia.

“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.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic encourages all drivers 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 which targets drivers who text while they are alone in their vehicle. The PSAs can be viewed here.

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augusta free press
augusta free press