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By Julie E. Lee, Vice President, Driver Safety Program, AARP Education & Outreach
Distracted driving is all over the news these days, because it can be a real hazard. In 2009, 20 percent of injury crashes involved reports of distracted driving. That means nearly 5,500 people were killed on U.S. roadways as a result of distracted driving, and another 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Unsurprisingly, the under-20 age group has the greatest proportion of distracted drivers-16 percent of all drivers under age 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving (NHTSA). Secretary Ray LaHood and the U.S. Department of Transportation have been avidly working to combat distracted driving with their “Faces of Distracted Driving” campaign.
“Every single time you take your eyes off the road or talk on the phone while you’re driving, even for just a few seconds, you put your life in danger,” LaHood said. “We need a combination of strong laws, tough enforcement and ongoing public education to make a difference.”
In addition to the work that the U.S. Department of Transportation is doing to combat distracted driving, more states are passing laws that prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while driving. In most of these states, an officer can cite you for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place. Also, more than 30 states have banned text messaging while driving.
Use these five tips to stay safe and avoid distractions while driving:
1. The first one is easy (and should be common sense): turn off your cell phone. Switch it to silent mode before you get into your car. Better yet, put your cell phone in your trunk before driving. Any phone call or text message you receive can wait until you arrive at your destination or have stopped safely.
2. Before traveling, review your maps and directions. Directions can be a huge distraction while driving-both printed maps and in-vehicle navigation units. If you need to review directions while driving, ask a passenger for help or pull over to a safe location.
3. Don’t treat your car like a restaurant. Eating and drinking is so natural that many drivers think that they can do it while driving. But it can be extremely dangerous, as it often causes you to take your hands off the wheel, and your eyes and mind off of the road. Pull over if you absolutely must have that drink or snack, or wait until you’ve reached your destination.
4. Focus, focus, focus. Think of driving as a job that requires your full attention. Refrain from smoking, eating, drinking, reading or any other activity that takes your eyes, ears or mind off of the road ahead.
5. Be on the lookout for distracted drivers. If you see a driver who you suspect is “under the influence” of distractions, change lanes or pull over to let him or her pass you.
If you’re interested in learning other tips and skills to help keep you and your loved ones safe on the roads, consider taking a driver safety course like the AARP Driver Safety Program, which is available in a classroom or online setting, in both English and Spanish. Upon completion of the course, you may even qualify for an insurance discount (Requirements vary from state to state.).
For more information, visit www.aarp.org/driving45 or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).