By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMay 25, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Nearly 3,500 people were killed in 2015 due to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's most recent data, and Fort Rucker officials want to make sure its drivers are keeping their eyes and minds on the road.
When people think distracted driving, most people think of cell phone use and texting while driving, but Marcel Dumais, Fort Rucker chief of police, said distracted driving can take on a number of forms, from phone use to eating to other people in the vehicle.
"When you break it down to the literal sense of what distracted driving is, it could be anything," he said. "It could be the kids in the back seat jumping up and down distracting mom or dad from driving, or it could be loud music, overcrowding of cars -- all of those things play into what distracted driving is."
In recent years, the most prevalent form of distracted driving has become cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle, said the police chief, which is not limited to just texting.
Fort Rucker has a hands-free policy, which means that in order for people to use their phones in their vehicles while driving, their device must be equipped with Bluetooth connectivity and run through the vehicle's stereo system.
"People think just because their phone is equipped with hands free that it is hands free, but yet they will hold their phone in their hand, so it's really not hands free," said Dumais. "Even people who answer their phone and [put it on speakerphone] and put it down next to them in their car think that might be hands free, but it's not. They still have to lean over and answer their phone, taking their eyes off the road for a period of time, which can cause accidents."
Texting while driving is one of the main distractions most people are guilty of, and according to the NHTSA it takes about five seconds to read or send a text, on average. In that time while traveling in a vehicle at 55 miles per hour, a car can travel the length of a football field.
Throughout the day, about 660,000 people are using cell phones or other devices while driving, which resulted in 391,000 injuries in motor vehicle accidents due to distracted driving in 2015, according to the NHTSA website.
This is no different on Fort Rucker, according to Dumais, and one of the main places that distracted driving takes place on post is in parking areas. While in parking areas, people tend to let their guard down and not pay as much attention as if they were on the road.
"Sometimes people are going too fast in parking lots -- the speed limits are 10 miles per hour -- and we have a lot of minor, low-impact accidents that happen in parking lots," said the police chief. "Eighty to 85 percent of accidents that happen on Fort Rucker happen in parking lots.
"In parking lots, the mindset is just a little bit different [than when on the road], and they're just not thinking about what they're doing and not paying attention, but the rules still apply."
The dangers of distracted driving can run from minor traffic accidents to fatalities, involving not only the drivers themselves, but other drivers and pedestrians, as well.
"If people aren't paying attention to the roadways, there's the possibility that [pedestrians] could be struck by a vehicle when they are crossing legally in a crossing area," said Dumais. "There are also a lot of children playing in the housing areas, so for inattentive drivers especially, the risk exists that they may strike a child."
Even when at a stoplight, people need to remain attentive to the task at hand, which is driving, and although their vehicle may not be moving, drivers can still be cited for cell phone use while driving if they get on their phones at a stop light.
"If you're in the roadway with your vehicle, you're supposed to abide by those rules. Even if you're at a traffic light or stopped in traffic, you pick up your phone, that's against the law," said the police chief. "People should just be cognizant of that and be extra careful when they're on the roads and focus on one thing, and that's driving.
"When a phone call that comes in, you can call back," he continued. "If you need to answer your phone, pull into a parking lot safely and do so. There are emergency calls that come in, but you still need to pull over to take that call, otherwise you could become the emergency."