As the calendar turns to April, families gear up for spring break car trips or college visits. With better weather, more drivers take day trips or plan weekend getaways. This all adds up to more drivers on the road, and more potential for distracted driving – which also increases the odds of traffic accidents with bodily injuries.
But April is also Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the time of year when the National Safety Council and other organizations join forces to heighten awareness of distracted driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) distracted driving is defined as any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, or fiddling with the sound, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.
NHTSA calls texting “the most alarming distraction” because tests show that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed, NHTSA explains.
According to Driver Electronic Device Use in 2015, a Sept. 2016 report from NHTSA, the percentage of passenger vehicle drivers text-messaging or visibly manipulating handheld devices remained constant at 2.2 percent in 2015. Driver handheld cell phone use decreased from 4.3 percent in 2014 to 3.8 percent in 2015, but NHTSA says this was not a statistically significant decrease.
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) is joining nationwide efforts to promote the importance of distracted driving awareness. One of the most frightening trends, PCI says, is the ubiquitous use of smartphones behind the wheel.
“Distracted driving is thought to be one of the leading causes for the rise in vehicle accidents. Whether it’s making a quick call, firing off a text, or adjusting the navigation system, in that short lapse of focus, all too often drivers can cause or fail to avoid a crash. And our increasingly congested roads compound the problem,” said Bob Passmore, PCI’s assistant vice president, personal lines policy.
The implementation and enforcement of distracted-driving laws, which discourage texting while driving and ban handheld cellphone use, are important first steps, PCI says.
“Auto safety is a top issue for auto insurers. We hope the dialogue on distracted and impaired driving will continue, and we urge lawmakers and other industry thought leaders to continue addressing the impact of motorist behavior as an important part of the safety equation,” added Passmore.
Employers and distracted drivers
Not only is distracted driving dangerous for individuals, the Insurance Information Institute ( I.I.I.) points out, but there is a growing concern among business owners and managers that they may be held liable for accidents caused by their employees while driving and conducting work-related conversations on cellphones. I.I.I. explains that under the doctrine of “vicarious responsibility,” employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed in the course of employment. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to put in place a policy for the safe use of cellphones.
Here are the top 7 safety tips from PCI and I.I.I. to help you, your employees, your family members and your clients avoid distracted driving.
1. Wear your seat belt.
Whether you’re taking a weekend get-away or just running errands around town, PCI encourages you to buckle up, drive safely and try to be prepared for those who may not. All passengers should be buckled up, even in the back seat.
Seat belts save lives and help prevent injuries. Also, make sure children are in the proper car or booster seats.
2. Plan ahead and allow extra travel time.
With more people on the roads, often driving in unfamiliar territory, the potential for a traffic crash increases. PCI encourages motorists to plan their routes in advance when traveling to new destinations, be patient, and allow for extra travel time.
Some auto accident reconstruction experts suggest that blindly following GPS systems has caused increases in accidents. If you’re going to use an electronic navigation system, check the directions before you start driving to be sure you understand where the system is taking you and where the turns are.
(Photo: AP/Mike Groll)
3. Observe speed limits, including lower speeds in work zones.
Stay focused on the road and be aware of changing traffic patterns caused by construction.
Be cautious of the construction workers themselves, who are often in close proximity to the highway—and at great risk.
Many states have increased fines in work zones, yet another reason to be more cautious.
Also, be aware that construction on major highways often takes place at night, when there is less traffic, but reduced visibility.
4. Avoid distracted driving.
When the entire family is traveling in the car, the opportunity for distraction is multiplied.
Remember to put the phone down, and never text while driving.
Be careful when eating on the run, as lunch can be just as distracting as a cell phone. As I.I.I. notes, eating takes both your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road, so don’t do it. Furthermore, spills can easily cause an accident. If you have to stop short, you could also be severely burned.
Buckle up or secure pets in the back of the car. Never allow your pet to ride in your lap while you’re driving.
5. Have a plan for roadside assistance.
If an accident occurs, be wary of unscrupulous towing companies. Have the phone number for your insurer or a roadside assistance program ready so you know who to call.
Some towing companies take advantage of drivers after an accident, and you could find yourself facing excessive fees or complications recovering your car from the tow yard.
6. Update your proof of insurance.
Before hitting the road, make sure to replace any expired insurance identification cards so you can prove you have insurance in the event of an accident or a traffic stop.
You should also check traffic laws for any states that you’ll be driving through or staying in.
7. Use safe phone habits.
I.I.I. advises drivers to pull off the road to a safe location if you must use the phone or text with someone.
If you must dial from the road, use voice-activated dialing. Program frequently called numbers and your local emergency number into your phone and use voice-activated dialing.
Let your voice mail pick up your calls while you’re driving. It's easy — and much safer — to retrieve your messages later on.
If you must make or receive a call while driving, keep conversations brief so you can concentrate on your driving. If a long discussion is required or if the topic is stressful or emotional, end the conversation and continue it once you are off the road.
Related: Emerging risks in auto technology