Distracted Driving Awareness Month

To the editor:

For many of us, driving is something we do every day. Driving may feel so routine that we feel we can do other things while driving, such as eating, talking on the phone, changing the radio station, applying makeup, reading directions on your GPS, or adjusting the temperature in the vehicle. However, doing any one of these things distracts you from driving by taking your eyes off the road.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, for the time period of 2014-2018, nearly 60,000 crashes, or one in five, were distracted driving related. Preliminary numbers also reveal that during that same time period, on average 45 people were killed and 204 people received life-changing injuries per year. In addition to these statistics, for the time period of 2013-2018, numbers from the Minnesota Courts show a disturbing upward trend in citations issued for texting-while-driving, including a 30% increase in texting-while-driving citations issued from 2017 to 2018.

Minnesota recently passed Hands Free legislation. Beginning August 1, 2019, drivers will no longer be able to hold their cell phones in their hands while driving. Drivers will be able to use voice commands or single touch activation to make phone calls, text, listen to music or podcasts, and get directions. The only time drivers will be allowed to hold their phone is to obtain emergency assistance, if there is an immediate threat to life and safety, or in an authorized emergency vehicle while performing official duties (information from HandsFreeMN.org).

Even with the new Hands Free law, hands free does not mean distraction free or risk free. Up to 94% of crashes are due to driver error. The National Safety Council’s #justdrive campaign urges drivers to eliminate the distractions. The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety offers these tips to avoid distractions while driving:

• Turn off cell phones, or place them out of reach to avoid the urge to dial or answer.

• Pre-program favorite radio stations for easy access and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot.

• Adjust mirrors and heat/AC before traveling, or ask a passenger to assist.

• Designate a passenger to serve as a co-pilot to help with directions. If driving alone, map out destinations in advance, and pull over to study a map.

• Try to avoid consuming food/beverages, at least messy foods, and be sure food and drinks are secured.

• Teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle and do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to children while driving.

• If you are a passenger in a car, speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior.

By following these tips, we can all be safer on the road. For more information on the new Hands Free law, please visit HandsFreeMN.org.


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