April is National Distracted Driving Awareness month. For many Philadelphia drivers, distracted driving poses a serious risk of auto accidents and injuries. Cell phone use is a major cause of distracted driving auto accidents and injuries in Philadelphia. According to 2013 data from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, there were 14,372 traffic accidents and 59 fatal accidents due to distracted driving. Texting, emailing and even making a call are all dangerous behaviors which increase the chances of a car or pedestrian accident.
Young Adults & Distracted Driving
Young people are particularly prone to cell phone related auto accidents. In fact, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, young people under the age of 20 face the highest risk of distracted driving accidents and injuries. Roughly 10% of all distracted driving accidents involve drivers under the age of 20. In addition, 16% of drivers under 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.
Cell phone use when driving isn’t illegal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, although it is illegal in other states like New Jersey and Delaware. Drivers in Pennsylvania can use cell phones to make phone calls. However, texting, emailing or otherwise using a cell phone when driving is illegal. Despite this law, many drivers continue to use cell phones. The problem is that cell phone use, even if it’s only to make a call, is distracting. Research shows that simply engaging in conversations when driving is distracting in and of itself. In fact, reaction times are negatively affected for drivers who are carrying on a conversation. According to the study, “The reaction times of drivers were more than 40% longer in the distracted condition compared to baseline (not distracted).” See “A parametric duration model of the reaction times of drivers distracted by mobile phone conversations” (published in Accident Analysis & Prevention, Sept. 2013).
This is particularly true for young, inexperienced drivers, whether it’s talking to a passenger in the car or talking on a cell phone. This is one of the main concerns with cell phone use when driving.
Tip for Parents – Use a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement
Parents should talk to their children about distracted driving. Here is a parent-teen driving agreement from the Centers for Disease Control. On the agreement, the teen acknowledges and agrees to refrain from certain risky driving behaviors, such as violating traffic laws, texting and driving, etc. The agreement also lays out consequences for violating the agreement such as loss of driving privileges for a specific period of time (a day, a week, etc.).
Distracted Driving Isn’t Limited to Cell Phone Use
It’s important to note that while most of us think of distracted driving as using a cell phone when driving to read or send a text message, distracted driving is basically any behavior that takes a driver’s eyes off the road. Eating, drinking, talking to a passenger and changing the radio or a CD are other risky driving behaviors. Whether due to texting when driving or other behaviors like eating or changing the radio, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of distracted driving auto accidents in Philadelphia over the last few years.
We must all take steps to eliminate distracted driving accidents. Countless lives are lost and dozens more are seriously affected by distracted driving.
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