Staying Focused Behind the Wheel

April is becoming known for a series of increased enforcement efforts tied to Distracted Driving Month.The designation by the National Safety Council is designed to increase awareness about the potential dangers of distracted driving, and increased enforcement efforts are taking place in New JerseyTexas and other states, as well as at least one Marine Corps base.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation has launched a national advertising campaign promoting the theme “U Drive. U Text. U Pay,” and a San Francisco blog is trying to shame drivers by posting images of people using phones while driving.

These initiatives are designed to combat the dangers associated with distracted driving, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says was responsible for 3,328 deaths in 2012. NHTSA estimates 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, which marked a 9 percent increase over 2011 figures.

Although the use of smartphones, texting and other high-tech devices dominates discussions of distracted driving, there are a number of other behind-the-wheel activities and habits that can also lead to accidents.

Eating while driving, for instance, is surprisingly common, and was among the leading causes of distracted driving accidents before smartphones hit the mainstream.

Other common causes of distracted driving include:

  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading or checking maps
  • Using a navigation device
  • Dealing with a loose or noisy pet

To help reduce distracted driving threats, safety advocates recommend the following:

  • Promote safe driving habits for teens. Drivers between the ages of 15 to 20 account for 11.4 percent of traffic fatalities
  • Remember hands-free phone use, although generally legal, can still be distracting
  • Consider using apps to automatically stop incoming calls and text messages when you’re driving
  • Program navigation aids before you depart
  • Pull over to a safe location to use mobile devices.