Campaign, awareness month remind motorists to pay attention to driving

Distracted driving is dangerous driving and a growing problem on the nation’s highways. During the past three years, distracted driving contributed to nearly one out of four motor vehicle crashes in Idaho.

To keep drivers safe, states across the country are joining with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's first coordinated national distracted-driving enforcement campaign: U Drive. U Text. U Pay. It runs April 10-15. The full month of April is designated as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

For the past five years, Idaho has averaged 15 distracted-driving crashes each day, according to Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) statistics. Those crashes resulted in 274 deaths.

The latest federal data shows more than 3,328 people were killed and approximately 421,000 people injured in crashes involving distracted drivers nationwide in 2012. These numbers are likely under-reported because of the difficulty in determining the role distraction plays in crashes.

Distracted driving is a specific type of inattention that occurs when motorists divert their attention from the task of driving to focus on another activity instead.

These distractions can be electronic distractions, such as navigation systems, cell phones and texting, or more conventional distractions, such as interacting with passengers, eating or changing a radio station.

Distracting tasks can affect drivers in different ways and are categorized into the following three types: visual—taking your eyes off the road, manual—taking your hands off the wheel, and cognitive—taking your mind off the road.

“Although the right combination of education and enforcement helps to keep Idaho's roads safer, it ultimately is up to each one of us as motor-vehicle operators to pay attention and stay focused on the task of driving to help eliminate death and injury on all Idaho roadways,” said Highway Safety Manager Brent Jennings.

One Idaho company, Franklin Building Supply, has taken steps to prevent their employees from contributing to Idaho’s distracted driving crash statistics.    

In January, the Boise-based company implemented a company policy that banned all electronic communication devices when driving company vehicles. The fine for a first violation was set at $500. The policy applied to everyone from the chief executive officer to the sales staff and delivery truck drivers.

“Our employees are very supportive of having a no-electronic mobile device policy for our company,” said Franklin CEO Rick Lierz. “It wasn’t an easy transition but we are glad we did it, we even have customers who’ve thanked us for making the roads safer for everyone.”

The company implemented its no-electronic mobile device policy after conducting an education campaign for employees and customers. Franklin Building Supply was established in 1976. It maintains 21 locations in Idaho and Nevada; employs 413 people; and operates 243 company vehicles.

Talking on a phone while driving is clearly a serious and dangerous distraction, but texting or reading a message on your phone while driving in Idaho is simply illegal.  

Violating the state’s texting law, which became effective in 2012, will cost $81.50.  If caught driving distracted and endangering oneself or others, Idaho law enforcement officers have the discretion to issue an inattentive-driving ticket, which is a misdemeanor and requires a court appearance. That ticket adds four points to a driving record and will impact insurance costs.

Many people throughout Idaho have lost loved ones as a result of crashes that happened from distractions such as texting and driving.  Liz Catherman’s 18-year-old daughter, Kassy Kerfoot, was killed in a texting-while-driving crash. Catherman recently shared her story with employees at Franklin Building Supply, and is willing to speak with other employers. 

Taylor Sauer, a Utah State University student, was sending a message to a friend through social media when she crashed driving 80 mph on Interstate 84.  She was driving home to see her parents in Caldwell and was killed instantly.  

Sauer was one of the 41 distracted-driving fatalities that happened in 2012.  Her parents, Shauna and Clay Sauer, petitioned the Idaho Legislature to get the state texting law passed.  

Ashley Zumbrunnen is a survivor of a texting crash.  Ashley is a working mom who crashed on Feb. 20, 2010.  She was driving to work on Idaho 55, near Donnelly, when she took her eyes off the road to send a text to her family that read, “I love you.”  

Zumbrunnen said she knows she was lucky to have survived, but her cervical spine was crushed and she lost the power of her right side as a result of the crash.  She also lost her unborn child.  Zumbrunnen must use a wheelchair to get around.  

“I struggle every day with how texting three little words has affected my eight-year-old daughter, Valerie,” said Zumbrunnen. “She wants me to be like all the other moms. I can’t ride a bike or run after her in the park and that breaks my heart. She didn’t deserve this.”

Pictured from the top are Brent Jennings, Rick Lierz, Liz Catherman and Treasure Valley law enforcement representatives who turned out in support of Franklin Building Supply's no-electronic mobile device policy.

Published 4-11-14