By: Edward L. Blais, JD, CIC 

Casey Feldman was headed towards her summer waitressing job when a van struck her in a crosswalk in Ocean City, New Jersey.

Casey, a 21-year-old rising senior at Fordham University, died within hours. 

The driver who hit her wasn’t drunk. He was distracted, holding an iced tea while trying to grab his GPS. 

texting while driving photo

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and we are working to raise awareness about this important issue. We urge all drivers to be aware and set an example for others. Likewise, passengers shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and be the voice of change when their car’s driver appears to be distracted. 

In 2018, nearly, 3,000 people died in accidents involving a distracted driver, while another 400,000 were injured, according to the CDC. A fifth of those who lost their lives were outside the vehicle like Casey. 

Among drivers who caused a fatal accident, 14 percent were teens and adults in their 20s who were distracted. But drivers of all ages are at risk. The driver who hit Casey was 58. Distracted drivers his age make up 5 percent of all those involved in crash fatalities. 

Distracted driving is often caused by emailing, texting, or checking your phone, but anything that diverts your attention from driving can be an issue. 

According to the CDC, there are three types of distracted driving: 

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road.
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off driving. 

Texting is a triple distraction: it takes your eyes of the road, your hand off the wheel, and your mind off of driving. According to a University of Utah study, people who text while driving are about as impaired as a drunk driver who is above the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 percent. “Just like you put yourself and other people at risk when you drive drunk, you put yourself and others at risk when you use a cell phone and drive. The level of impairment is very similar,” said psychologist David Strayer, the study’s lead author. 

According to a separate study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers who text are 23.2 times more likely to crash than those who don’t. 

Even hands-free cellular devices are problematic, because the conversation—not just holding or handling the cell—is still a distraction for the driver, according to the University of Utah study.

The University of Utah study also found that drivers who are using their cell phones are 5.36 times more likely to have an accident than other drivers. 

Besides texting, or otherwise checking your phone, distracted driving could involve anything from eating, drinking coffee, applying makeup to changing the radio station or fixing a mirror. 

How to prevent distracted driving

 ► If you’re a driver: Stop texting, talking, or using your cell phone. In general, don’t multitask. Eat, pick your music, text, or email before you leave. 

► If you’re a passenger: The CDC recommends speaking up and urging the driver to keep his attention on the road. You can also minimize distractions by helping the driver with tasks like changing the radio or checking a text. 

► If you’re a parent: There are a number of specific steps you can take according to the CDC: 

  • Talk to your child about the rules and responsibilities involved in driving. Share stories and statistics related to teen/young adult drivers and distracted driving. Remind them driving is a skill that requires the driver’s full attention. Encourage them to wait to text or call until they have arrived at their destination. 
  • Check your state’s graduated driver licensing system and enforce its guidelines for your teen.
  • Know your state’s laws on distracted driving. Many states have novice driver provisions in their distracted driving laws. Talk with your child about the consequences of distracted driving and make yourself and your child aware of your state’s penalties for talking or texting while driving.
  • Set consequences for distracted driving. Fill out the CDC’s Parent-Teen Driving Agreement together to begin a safe driving discussion and set your family’s rules of the road. Your family’s rules of the road can be stricter than your state’s law. For more tips see the CDC’s guide, Parents Are the Key. 

(Edited and adapted from the CDC.)
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