Distracted Driving Overview

Jan 12th, 2011 | By | Category: Analysis, News and Notes, Health and Safety

Distracted driving accidents killed nearly 5,500 people in the United States in 2009 and injured 500,000 more. According to the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), distracted driving is operating a motor vehicle while engaging in any non-driving activity. Non-driving activities have the potential to distract the driver from the primary task of driving, which increases the risk of having a motor vehicle accident.

There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual — taking your eyes off of the road
  • Manual — taking your hands off of the steering wheel
  • Cognitive — taking your mind off of what you’re doing

Faces of Distracted Driving

To raise awareness of this issue, the DOT launched a website that includes a video series, Faces of Distracted Driving. This video series explores the tragic consequences of texting and cell phone use while driving. It features people who have either been injured or lost loved ones in distracted driving crashes.

“These videos are dramatic evidence that the lives lost to America’s distracted driving epidemic aren’t statistics. They’re children, parents, neighbors, and friends,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. “These people have courageously come forward to share their personal tragedies in order to warn others against making the dangerous decision to talk or text behind the wheel.”

Faces of Distracted Driving commenced with three videos: 

  • Elissa Schee’s 13-year-old daughter, Margay, was killed in 2008 when a semi-truck crashed into the back of her school bus in Citra, Florida. The truck driver was talking on his cell phone at the time of the crash and said he never saw the bus.
  • Laurie Hevier’s 58-year-old mother, Julie, was killed when a distracted driver struck her as she walked beside a road in Rudolph, Wisconsin. Crash reconstruction reports showed the driver could not have been looking at the road for 8.75 seconds.
  • Amos Johnson’s 16-year-old daughter, Ashley, was killed when she lost control of her vehicle, crossed the center line, and hit a pickup truck in Asheville, North Carolina. She was texting at the time of the crash.

The DOT is encouraging others who would like to share their experiences with distracted driving to post videos on YouTube and e-mail the links to faces@distraction.gov.

Oprah Winfrey Battles Distracted Driving

Oprah Winfrey, an American television host, actress, producer, and philanthropist, has also taken up the cause. Expressing her outrage against distracted driving, Oprah urged her followers to make their cars a “no phone zone.”

View Oprah Winfrey’s distracted driving public service announcement.

Other Distractions

While cell phone use is a primary cause of distracted driving in today’s technology-enhanced world, many other forms of distraction must also be avoided. These distractions include, among others

  • Sending or receiving text messages
  • Reading
  • Applying makeup
  • Watching a DVD
  • Having a heated discussion
  • Eating
  • Programming a navigation device
  • Changing radio stations or CDs
  • Searching for a lost article
  • Lighting a cigarette

Additional Information

To learn more about the DOT’s efforts to stop distracted driving, go to www.distraction.gov.

Read the related EHS Journal article, Distracted Driving: States that Restrict Cell Phone Use and Text Messaging. This article includes helpful maps showing mobile telephone and text messaging restrictions.

About the Authors

Michael  Bittner is a partner in the Boston, U.S.A. office of Environmental Resources Management (ERM). He specializes in EHS compliance solutions, EHS management systems and global compliance audit programs. He is a member of the Auditing Roundtable’s Board of Directors.

Steven Perkins is a hydrogeologist and project manager at ERM in Irvine, California, U.S.A. He is a contaminated site management specialist who also serves as ERM’s health and safety advisor for the western United States and provides training to staff and contractors in behavior-based safety programs.

Thomas Wong has more than thirty years of experience as an EHS professional in the mining and petrochemical industries. His primary areas of work include RCRA permitting, site investigation, reclamation, remediation, closure plans, phytoremediation, NRC licensing, and mine and reclamation plan permitting. Mr. Wong is in ERM’s Houston, Texas office.

Photograph: Cell Phone 3 by Dawson Toth, United States.

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