2015: Combating Distracted Driving

Brent Jennings
Highway Safety Manager
The Office of Highway Safety has declared 2015 as the year of combating distracted driving in Idaho. It is no secret that distracted driving contributes in a large way to fatal and serious injury crashes on all our roadways. Efforts to eliminate distracted driving should at least match the efforts used to encourage seat belt usage and fighting impaired driving.

Distraction is categorized into the three following types: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off the road). In Idaho, during 2013, distracted driving crashes made up 21 percent of all crashes and were responsible for 20 percent of all fatalities. While 72 percent of all distracted driving crashes occurred on urban roadways, 83 percent of the fatal distracted driving crashes occurred on rural roadways. While only 22 percent of all distracted driving crashes involved a single vehicle, 44 percent of fatal distracted driving crashes involved a single vehicle. The economic cost of crashes involving distracted driving was nearly $598 million dollars in 2013. This represents 23 percent of the total costs of Idaho crashes.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration texting is the most alarming distraction because it involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction simultaneously. Sending or reading a text message takes the driver’s eyes off the road for five seconds. For a driver traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of traveling the entire length of a football field blind!

The good news is that everyone can play a part to combat distracted driving. Our office is seeing more businesses creating policies addressing distracted driving. These efforts are deeply appreciated. Both public and private sectors can play a critical role in combating distracted driving. Here are some issues to consider when developing a policy:

• Will you restrict cell phone use while driving for employees conducting business or ban it altogether? Keep in mind that although it may be tempting to allow workers to use hands-free devices, they have not been shown to be substantially safer than handheld cell phones because the cognitive distraction remains.

• Establish a company policy on answering and returning phone calls while on the road so that workers don’t feel that there will be negative repercussions for avoiding cell phone use while driving. For example, you can instruct employees to pull over to a safe location within a specified time period after receiving a phone call or to stop at certain intervals (e.g., every 2 hours) to check voicemail and text messages. Employees who are not on the road need to know about these policies, too, so everyone’s expectations are aligned.

• Address emergency situations. While talking or texting on a cell phone while driving is dangerous, cell phones can also be lifesavers in emergencies. Your policy should allow for these situations and provide guidelines for who to contact in emergencies and how to report emergencies safely.

• Remind your employees—then remind them again—of your company's distracted driving policies and consequences. Consider having all drivers consistently follow these four steps: (1) Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive. (2) Set a good example for young drivers and talk with teens about responsible driving, as young drivers are most at risk. (3) Speak up when you are a passenger and the driver uses an electronic device while behind the wheel. Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention is on the road, and; (4) Always wear your seat belt—it's the best defense you have against other unsafe drivers.

Eliminating distracted driving in Idaho is worthy of our efforts. It will take all of us working together in 2015 and beyond to change the culture of distracted driving to the point this behavior is simply not acceptable. Achieving this goal will take Idaho far on our quest of Towards Zero Deaths.

Published 02-06-15