April is National Distracted Driver Awareness Month

Stop and think, whether you are driving or walking, is that text or phone call worth serious injury or death? You hear a great deal about distracted driving, but what exactly is it? Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger the driver, passenger(s) and bystander safety. Some types of distractions can be: texting or reading a text or email, using a cell phone or Smartphone, eating or drinking, using navigation system, adjusting a radio, reading, grooming, talking to passengers, and aggressive driving.

Studies have shown that all driver distractions are not created equal, cell phone use and text messaging are by far the most alarming distractions due to the visual, manual and cognitive attention necessary to perform the task. As much as we would like to think our brain can multitask, it cannot, and with driving while talking on a cell phone or while texting (or even reading a text) you have more than one thinking task. When you have two or more thinking tasks, your brain rapidly switches between the two activities, it does not work simultaneously.

Did you know that sending or reading a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving at 55 mph the length of an entire football field…blindfolded!

Unfortunately, the vast majority of drivers remain unaware of the dangers of cell phone use and/or texting, or think they are exempt from distraction. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, 2011 statistics show that more than 81,000 Texas crashes involved distraction in a vehicle, driver inattention or cell-phone use, and 361 of these crashes were fatal. Overall, nearly one in four crashes in Texas involves driver distraction.

According to the National Safety Council, talking on a cell phone while driving makes you four times more likely to crash, and texting while driving increases your chances of a crash by up to eight to twenty-three times. They also found that studies show hands-free devices provide no safety benefit since it is the conversation, not the device, which creates the danger.

Some other facts about distracted driving include:
• The activity in the area of the brain that processes moving visual images – important to safe driving – decreases by 1/3 when listening to a phone conversation. (Carnegie Mellon study)
• Your brain can miss seeing up to 50% of your driving environment when you are talking on a cell phone behind the wheel. What you miss could be very important.  (Carnegie Mellon study)
• Drivers talking on cell phones had slower reaction times than drivers with.08 blood alcohol content. (University of Utah)

Another danger can be distracted walking or running. As children we were taught to look both ways before crossing a street, and for a good reason. Pedestrians who are involved in texting, talking on a cell phone, or listening to music can be distracted or preoccupied and easily walk in front of cars or fail to see or hear warning signals. While texting or talking on the cell phone, they are also in danger of injury from obstacles on the sidewalk or path such as curbs, poles, uneven ground, and other impediments.

As a driver, there are steps you can take to raise awareness:
• Be a model driver and never text and drive,
• Stay focused and alert when driving,
• Speak up if the driver in your car is distracted,
• Spread the word to promote safe driving, and
• Make your car a “no phone” zone when driving and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Be safe and stow that phone when you drive or walk, the Fort Worth Police Department supports this recommendation by prohibiting our employees from texting while driving any police vehicle.