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Here's the good news. Last year, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that in 2010, highway dealths fell to 32,885, the lowest number since 1949, even though Americans are driving more miles.
But here's the bad news. Over 3,000 of those fatalities involved distractions. And driving while distracted in on the rise - especially for teens who have grown up in a digital, multi-tasking world. The American Auto Association reports that nearly 50 percent of teens admit to texting or using cell phones while driving. But here are a couple of statistics from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that should get their attention:
Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mpt, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.
Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.
The problem has become so acute that the government has set up an official website on distracted driving. I recommend a visit to www.distraction.gov, an interesting site with important reminders for everyone, especially teenage drivers. While you're there, check out the video about 19 year-old Brittanie Montgomery of Oklahoma City whose life was tragically ended by a single phone call. The website encourages young people to realize that "the fight to end distracted driving starts with you." And it contains a pledge to never text or talk on the phone while driving and to encourage friends and family to drive phone free.
In Massachusetts, the Safe Driving Law passed in September 2010 prohibits all drivers from writing, sending, or reading text or other electronic messages even when their vehicle is stopped in traffic. It also prohibits the use of cell phones by drivers under 18.
Distracted walking is also a safety hazard. You may recall seeing the video of a woman who fell into a fountain while texting in a Pennsylvania mall. And even though many of us have had to hit the brakes when a distracted pedestrian stepped out into our path, it's quite legal to text, talk on a cellphone, or listen to music on headphones while walking. But think about this: A pedestrian who's doing any of these things while crossing the street is four times more likely to be hit by a car than someone who's paying attention.
If you are a parent, I hope you'll have a conversation with the young people in your household about the dangers of distracted driving, remind them about the law, and encourage them to take the pledge to avoid distractions while driving. And let's all commit to leading by example.