FORT POLK, La. – The National Safety Council designates April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
This year, the NSC is reporting a “significant drop” in vehicle traffic since the start of the pandemic; however, U.S. roads have not gotten any less dangerous. There has been little change to the national average of seven deaths and 700 injuries per day attributable to distracted driving. Equally astounding is the 96 percent of drivers who say in surveys that texting while driving is dangerous, yet 44 percent of them do it anyway.
Those statistics speak to the continued importance of the DDAM observance. It is an opportunity to raise awareness, inform and encourage responsible actions that save lives on our highways.
Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from operating a vehicle, including using a cellphone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers and adjusting the climate controls. To help combat this growing epidemic, the Army Combat Readiness Center is emphasizing the use of “Distracted Driving 101: A Study Guide to Preventable Pain, Suffering, Death and Destruction.”
This exportable briefing, available for download on the USACRC website, highlights Army and DOD policy regarding the use of handheld electronic devices while driving, the myths and facts of multitasking behind the wheel, and tips to avoid distracted driving.
USACRC Command Sgt. Maj. William L. Gardner encourages Army leaders to download the briefing and share it with their Soldiers.
“The Army is not immune to distracted driving,” Gardner said. “Over the last several fiscal years, our data shows an increase in distracted driving mishaps among Soldiers. These accidents are 100-percent preventable. Leaders must continue to warn their Soldiers of the potential consequences of this dangerous behavior.”
According to Walt Beckman, program manager at the USACRC, cellphone use, whether talking or texting, is the most common form of distracted driving and perhaps the most alarming.
“Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds,” Beckman said. “At 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. No driver can operate a vehicle safely unless the task of driving has their full attention.”
While some believe advances in automobile technology – such as voice-activated controls, GPS navigation and integrated Bluetooth connectivity allowing hands-free phone operation – make driving safer, the NSC reports the opposite is true. These devices can lead to multitasking behind the wheel, resulting in Americans operating their vehicles more distracted than ever before.
“Multitasking is a myth,” Beckman said. “Our brains cannot perform two tasks at the same time. Any non-driving activity you engage in behind the wheel increases the risk of crashing.”
The NSC also is asking for help from parents who are mentoring first-time drivers in their family. Results from a 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 39 percent of high school students who participated had texted or emailed while driving within the past 30 days. Studies also show (www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html) that teens are more likely to speed and trail other vehicles at an unsafe distance. Conversation is needed to counteract these habits.
There’s a tendency among community leaders to only emphasize the issue of distracted driving and other road safety hazards around the holidays, according to national safety officials. DDAM drives home the message that accidents are just as likely to happen during every day commutes to work, while on the job or as people are juggling household errands throughout the week.
Moreover, the potential for serious injury or death from crashes exists whether individuals are driving a forklift, semi-truck or their own personal vehicle. The theme of the 2021 DDAM observance says it all … “Just Drive.” Keep yourself and others around you safe by keeping eyes on the road.
Posters, videos and interactive quizzes to helps promote DDAM are available at www.nsc.org. To download the USACRC’s distracted driving briefing, visit safety.army.mil//MEDIA/Exportable-Briefings. A CAC login is required.
(Original article written by Angela Welch, USACRC, with further editing by the USAG Fort Lee Public Affairs Office in partnership with the Garrison Safety Office)