Editorial: Distracted driving needs to stop
17 hrs ago
On your way to and from work or school or while running errands, how many drivers do you pass who are talking on their mobile phones? Or texting (which is, for the record, banned in Virginia)? Or maybe they’re looking at an email, cradling a device in their hands and in turn not paying attention to traffic? Likely a lot.
That’s called distracted driving, which research continues to show is the nation’s No. 1 highway safety issue. Virginia is not just for lovers — it’s for distracted drivers. Last month, a study by Zendrive — which analyzes driver behavior for fleets and insurers — found that Virginia motorists are the most distracted in the nation because they continue to use their phone while at the wheel. In the Old Dominion, motorists use their cellphone an average of 9% of the time — up from 6% in a report last year.
There’s even a subcategory of distracted driver — phone addicts, who pick up their devices four times more than the average driver and spend almost one-third (28%) of their time staring at their devices and ignoring the road. The study declared phone addicts were replacing drunken drivers “as the ultimate threat on public roads.”
This week, Gov. Ralph Northam shared the results of a digital town hall on distracted driving, the state’s first online safety feedback forum. More than 2,000 people participated in the anonymous survey, which asked 11 questions and took place in December. More than 90% (93.7%) of respondents rated distracted driving as a very serious or serious problem. When asked to chose the most serious risky behavior, almost half of respondents (49.2%) ranked distracted driving as the top issue. Drunken driving came next (24.2%), followed by aggressive driving (10.8%).
“We know that distracted driving is a fast-growing epidemic in the commonwealth and the 93% of town hall participants who agreed is a clear indication that this serious safety issue is a concern of nearly all Virginians,” Northam said in a statement. “Changing the culture of distraction on our roadways is each of our responsibility, and with this input we can work together to promote safe driving behavior, reverse this dangerous trend and save countless lives.”
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute for the Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety compiled the results. The team consists of the Virginia departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation, State Police, Health, and Education and is charged with reducing the number of fatalities on Virginia’s roads. In 2018, 126 people died in distracted driving-releated crashes in Virginia, according to the governor’s office.
While the survey points out it’s not a random sample of Virginians, it nevertheless shows that people are concerned about the growing epidemic of distracted driving — as are we.
One of the survey’s participants was Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. A surprising takeaway for her was the majority of respondents who admitted to using their cellphones at some point while driving.
“This reconfirms once again the seriousness of the problem of distracted driving,” Meade told us. “But more importantly, the fact is that drivers strongly feel that distracted driving is dangerous, yet they engage in distracted driving behaviors by their own admission. And we’ve seen that over and over again in surveys. It tells us as drivers, we need to recognize that the psychological pull of the mobile device really can be stronger than common sense and stronger than our innate desire to protect our own lives.”
Distracted driving kills an average of nine people and injuries more than 1,000 every day in the United States, according to AAA. To focus attention on this issue, the auto safety group recently launched a “Don’t Drive Intoxicated — Don’t Drive Intexticated” campaign to call attention to this public safety threat and make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as drunken or impaired driving.
It’s a matter of making a conscious decision to change our behavior and not drive distractedly, Meade pointed out. Just like people decide not to drink and drive — they’ll find a friend to take the wheel or call for a ride — people need to put down their devices and focus on the road.
As we’ve written in these pages, the General Assembly missed a huge opportunity this year to crack down on the growing problem of distracted driving by not passing a bill that would have prohibited the use of hand-held devices while driving. During the reconvened session, Northam sought to amend a bill that would ban the use of hand-held devices by motorists in highway work zones and make it statewide. House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said the governor’s amendment was not germane to the underlying bill and the statewide ban died.
That was unfortunate. We hope this growing chorus against distracted driving will show the need for this type of law and save lives. Lawmakers, are you listening?
— Pamela Stallsmith