Distracted driving a deadly habit | SteamboatToday.com

Distracted driving a deadly habit

Every day in the United States lives are claimed in crashes caused by distracted driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2013 — almost nine per day.

Although distractions come in many forms — eating, talking to passengers, adjusting the radio — cell phone use is the most common activity to divert drivers’ attention from the road. Talking on a phone has the highest number of incidents, while texting is the third greatest distraction among men and women.

A 2013 study from the Colorado Department of Transportation shows that of 15.6 percent of 24,022 drivers observed across the state were found to be distracted, around 3,747 people.

Of those 3,747 distracted drivers nearly half, 1,777 people, were cell phone users. The next highest distraction was eating while driving.

To combat the potentially lethal problem, CDOT is working with law enforcement and local communities to bring attention to the dangers of distracted driving.

“It’s definitely something we’re having to try to educate people on and you’re having to require people to change behaviors,” said Tracy Trulove, communications director for CDOT Region 3 — which includes Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties.

Trulove said one of the biggest challenges is working with younger drivers who feel like they will miss out on something if they don’t pay attention to their phones.

“Kids these days are kind of growing up with this sense that they’ve got to immediately know what’s going on or they’re going to miss out on something,” she said. “That’s a little terrifying, even for me who has a teenage daughter driving. They’re inexperienced anyway, and then you’re adding this distracting device.”

In Colorado, cell phone use of any type is illegal at all times for drivers under 18. Drivers over 18 are banned from texting or other similar form of manual data entry.

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said individuals distracted by cell phones exhibit some of the same behavior as drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, such as weaving or not paying attention to speed.

“It can cause the same exact crashes, that’s why it’s such a concern,” he said.

To avoid distractions, Lewis said drivers should do things like programming their GPS or setting up music before getting on the road and then set their phones aside.

“You’re only distracted if you want to be distracted, if you allow yourself to be distracted,” he said.

CDOT reports that of the 203,827 motorists involved in crashes on Colorado roadways in 2013, an estimated 24.4 percent were attributed to distracted drivers.

“Even a minor crash is a major inconvenience — and that’s if no one gets hurt, if you’re lucky,” Lewis said.

Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@craigdailypress.com. Follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.

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