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Distracted driving can have fatal consequences

Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. -- Distracted driving has become an epidemic in the United States, and its often fatal consequences are a threat to everyone.

What is "distracted driving?" The definition is "driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving."

The human toll is tragic. In the U.S., around nine people are killed each day in distracted driving crashes. That's nine people too many!

The Department of Transportation reports that in 2012, 3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver. An additional 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012, a 9 percent increase from the 387,000 people injured in 2011.

In 2013, 3,154 people died in crashes linked to distraction and thousands more were injured. This represented an approximate 6.7 percent decrease in the number of fatalities recorded in 2012.  Unfortunately, approximately 424,000 people were injured, which is an increase from the number of injuries in 2012.

Drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes.
Additionally, at any given daylight moment across the U.S., approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while operating a vehicle. That number has held steady since 2010.

"Texting while driving" has become such a prominent hazard that 46 states -- in addition to Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- now ban text messaging for all drivers. The most recent state to ban texting while driving is Oklahoma. Of the four states without an all-driver texting ban, two prohibit text messaging by novice drivers and one restricts school bus drivers from texting.

Fourteen states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit drivers of all ages from using handheld cellphones while driving.

Operating a vehicle safely is a primarily visual task. Non-driving activities conducted from behind the steering wheel that draw the driver's eyes away from the roadway must always be avoided.

There are three main types of distraction:
· Visual -- taking your eyes off the road
· Manual -- taking your hands off the wheel
· Cognitive -- taking your mind off the task at hand (operating the vehicle safely)

Additional distracting activities include, but are not limited to:
· Using a cell phone and/or texting
· Eating and drinking
· Talking to passengers
· Grooming
· Reading, including maps
· Using a PDA or navigation system
· Watching a video
· Changing the radio station, CD or MP3 player
· Driving while angry.
· Engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.  Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting.  When traveling at 55 mph, that is enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.

Bear in mind that headset cellphone use, or what is commonly referred to as "hands-free" is NOT substantially safer than hand-held usage.

Focus on the task at hand -- driving:
· Get familiar with vehicle features and equipment before pulling out into traffic.
· Preset radio stations, MP3 devices and climate control.
· Secure items that may move around when the car is in motion. Do not reach down or behind the seat to pick up items.
· Do not text, access the Internet, watch videos, play video games, search MP3 devices, or use any other distracting technology while driving.
· Avoid smoking, eating, drinking and reading while driving.
· Pull safely off the road and out of traffic to deal with children.
· Do personal grooming at home -- not in the vehicle.
· Review maps and driving directions before hitting the road.

Monitor traffic conditions before engaging in activities that could divert attention away from driving.
· Ask a passenger to help with activities that may be distracting.
· If driving long distances, schedule regular stops, every 100 miles or two hours.
· Travel at times when you are normally awake and stay overnight rather than driving straight through.
· Avoid alcohol and medications that may make you drowsy.

Remain focused on staying alive and the Air Force's Quest-for-Zero goals while behind a steering wheel and operating a vehicle.  This article is in support of the Air Force's Distracted Driving Campaign.

(Some thanks to www.distraction.gov, www.michigan.gov, www.cdc.gov and NHTSA)