RICHMOND—One text or phone call really could wreck it all.
That’s the message the U.S. Department of Transportation has been trying to send drivers.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and Virginia Farm Bureau has partnered with Drive Smart Virginia to bring awareness to the issue.
Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety.
“Distracted driving has become a dangerous epidemic,” said Farm Bureau Safety Manager Jimmy Maass. “Drivers need to remember that they are driving a car, and that should be the only thing they’re doing—not eating, reading, putting on makeup, texting or talking on the phone.
In 2009, more than 5,400 people were killed in U.S. crashes involving driver distraction, and about 448,000 were injured, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority.
There are three main types of distractions: manual distractions, which take one’s hands off the wheel; visual distractions, which take one’s eyes off the road; and cognitive distractions, which take one’s mind off driving. Text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, so it is by far the most alarming, Maass said.
Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times greater than driving while not distracted, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Sending or reading a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field while blindfolded.
Drivers who use a handheld phone are four times more likely to be in an accident serious enough to cause injury. Using a phone while driving delays a driver’s reaction time as much as having a blood-alcohol content of .08, the legal limit.
Current Virginia law prohibits all drivers from texting and prohibits drivers younger than 18 and school bus drivers from using hand-held or hands-free phones. On Jan. 3, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration put into effect a ban on hand-held phone use while driving a vehicle that requires a commercial driver’s license.
For more information on driving without distractions, visit drivesmartva.org or distraction.gov.
Contact Maass at 804-290-1379.