State Highway Safety Plan Takes on Distracted Driving

April 22, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 22 /PRNewswire/ — Driver distractions have joined alcohol and speeding as leading factors in fatal and serious injury crashes. The National Safety Council estimates that up to 25 percent of all crashes in 2008 involved talking on cell phones or texting. To combat this growing threat on our roadways, the State of California has added Distracted Driving as the first new area for concentrated effort to the Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP).

Distracted Driving has been designated Challenge Area 17, adding to the 16 Challenge Areas originally established in the Plan, currently two years into implementation. The SHSP is a collaborative effort of over 80 state, federal, county, and local government agencies, as well as numerous advocacy groups, businesses, community organizations and individuals. The Plan has the goal of significantly reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses resulting from traffic safety crashes.

“During the 20th century, we knew what was killing us on our roads, things like alcohol and drugs, speeding, reckless driving, unsafe cars, and dangerous roads,” said Christopher J. Murphy, Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). “The 21st century has brought us a new and troubling danger – the use of cell phones.”

Fifteen years ago, less than 15 percent of us used cell phones. That figure is now near 90 percent. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at any point during the day, 11 percent of drivers are talking on cell phones. Text messaging has grown dramatically – an almost 10,000-fold increase in 10 years. Even while studies have shown the dangers and the public is recognizing the risks, the behavior continues barely abated.

“Distracted driving is a growing traffic safety concern, especially among teenagers,” said Joe Farrow, Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol. “Bringing attention to the subject in the Strategic Highway Safety Plan allows for a collaborative approach to identifying solutions to combat the problem so we can prevent further injuries and deaths on the roadways as a result of distracted driving.”

Cell phone use while driving has become a serious public health threat. Dialing and texting can take a driver’s eyes from the roadway for 5 to 10 seconds, while most crashes have less than 3 seconds reaction time. Talking on a cell phone, both hand held and hands free, causes slower reaction time, lowers ability to stay within lanes, and most importantly, causes “inattention blindness,” where the brain is not able to perceive things that are in plain sight.

A committee for Challenge Area 17 has been set up with members from OTS, CHP, DMV, and Caltrans, as well as federal government, research, teen safety, and public awareness organizations. It will be defining the problem and establishing strategies and tactics to combat distracted driving in the coming years.

SOURCE California Office of Traffic Safety

Source: newswire

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