Have you ever noticed what other drivers are doing while on the road? We've all seen it. Some may be on the phone, texting, eating and drinking, applying make-up, putting a disk into the CD player, searching for something, getting the kids attention in the back seat, or maybe even attempting to read. The list goes on and on.
Sadly, everyday driver distractions like these can lead to a motor vehicle crash that may cause serious bodily injury or even death.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2008, nearly 6,000 people were killed in crashes in which distracted or inattentive driving was a factor. It is believed that these statistics may even be underreported because distracted driving data is often difficult to collect.
In response, some states have already taken action. While Florida currently has no bans on cell phone use or texting while driving, 30 states plus the District of Columbia and Guam have banned texting for all drivers. In addition, so far 8 states, D.C. and the Virgin Islands have prohibited the use of handheld cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. For a full list of state laws regulating texting and cell phone use while driving, visit: www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html
According to the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a non-profit organization representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, D.C. and Puerto Rico, state highway safety agencies are committed to addressing driver distraction through a comprehensive approach including laws, education, enforcement, employer policies and the use of technology.
In fact, the GHSA recently released a report detailing state distracted driving countermeasures. The report shows that states are implementing many strategies to begin to turn the tide against distraction. The report is online at www.ghsa.org/html/publications/survey/index.html
Here at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, we firmly believe that raising awareness about the issue is the best way to address it. As such, we are taking various proactive steps to bring this issue to the forefront, especially through the education of our youngest drivers in our "Teen Driver Challenge" program.
The two-day course, part classroom, part driving experience emphasizes safety on the road and helps teens build the foundation for years of safe driving. One of the segments covered in the course curriculum is "distracted driving". The program, supported by the Florida Sheriff's Association, encourages young drivers to develop good habits early in their driving careers.
As previously mentioned, even though there is no law currently in the State of Florida that prohibits cell phone use or texting while driving, students are repeatedly encouraged to exercise good judgment while driving. They are reminded to put their safety and the safety of their passengers first; and to consider that the consequences of driving distracted can be serious and tragic.
In class, students are advised to pull safely off the road if they must make a phone call or send a text message. They are reminded to avoid distractions created by other passengers in the car who may be attempting to share text messages or photos with them when they are in the driver's seat. In other words, students are directed to place 100% of their attention on the road and on the task at hand of safely operating their vehicle.
Deputies also share a true-life story video, in which a young man who was texting while driving caused a crash that claimed the life of two men, both husbands and fathers.
During the driving portion, which is conducted in a controlled environment, deputies have students talk on the cell phone and the same time conduct a reactionary braking exercise. The idea is to show the student how the distraction may take away from their ability to quickly bring the vehicle to a stop-before a dangerous situation might be created. Instructors are in the process of developing new exercises to show how other distractions, such as texting, may cause drivers to lose their focus and end up in a crash.
The Sheriff's Office has additionally formed partnerships with the local media in an effort to raise awareness among the public at large. The efforts have included the taping of public service announcements, which highlight the "Teen Driver Challenge" course.
For further information about the course visit the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office website at www.pcsoweb.com and go to Teen Driver Challenge; or contact Deputy Thomas Kelley at Tkelley@pcsonet.com.
The Sheriff's Office is committed to and will continue to seek out ways to address the very important issue of combating distracted driving and keeping our roads safe.