Driving distractions can be deadly

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Stay in control when you are on the roadways

While drunken driving has been focused on heavily — and it certainly should be — another form of impaired driving can, in many ways, be just as dangerous — distracted driving.

The most frequently mentioned form of non-alcohol related impaired driving is the campaigns against texting while driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly a third of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported that they had read or sent text or email messages while driving with the 30 days immediately preceding a survey of U.S. and European drivers that the CDC conducted in 2011.

Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of those U.S. drivers surveyed that year said they had driven while talking on a cell phone during the 30-day period.

The numbers are even higher for younger, inexperienced drivers, the CDC reports. The organization found that nearly half of high school students 16 or older admitted to texting or emailing while driving. Those students also were more likely to engage in other risky behavior, such as being five times more like to drink and drive than other students and twice as likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking.

That year — 2011 — 3,331 people in America died in auto crashes involving a distracted driver, a number that was up 64 deaths from the previous year. Injuries were down some in wrecks involving distracted drivers, dropping to 387,000 from 2010’s 416,000, a year when 18 percent of all crashes in which someone was injured involved an impaired driver.

The CDC estimates that on any given day, an average of nine people die and more than 1,060 are injured in wrecks caused by distracted drivers.

Any distraction is dangerous, with the CDC identifying three primary types: taking eyes off the road, taking a hand or both hands off the steering wheel, and not thinking about the act of driving. Texting and emailing are seen as one of the worst possible offenders since it requires all three distractions to happen, something that can be deadly in the space of a few seconds while an auto is traveling down the road.

With the weather warming up, motorists will be hitting the road in heavier numbers. Just this week, there was a big migration to the Florida panhandle and other vacation areas as area school systems shut for spring break. And as the numbers rise, so will the incidents of distracted driving … and the chances of injury and death on the roadways.

AAA Auto Club Group has some advice on how to avoid becoming a statistic. Here are 10 things to keep in mind when you're behind the wheel.

— Focus on driving and don’t let anything divert your attention. Scan the road, use your mirrors and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.

— Store loose gear, possessions and other distractions that could roll around in the car, so you do not feel tempted to reach for them on the floor or the seat.

— Make adjustments before your drive. Address vehicle systems like your GPS, seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before hitting the road. Decide on your route and check traffic conditions ahead of time.

-- Finish dressing and personal grooming at home -- before you get on the road.

— Snack smart. If possible, eat meals or snacks before or after your trip, not while driving. On the road, avoid messy foods that can be difficult to manage.

— Secure children and pets before getting under way. If they need your attention, pull off the road safely to care for them. Reaching into the backseat can cause you to lose control of the vehicle.

— Don’t use cell phones while driving – hand-held or hands-free – except in absolute emergencies. Never use text messaging, email functions, video games or the internet with a wireless device, including those built into the vehicle, while driving.

— If you have passengers, enlist their help so you can focus safely on driving.

— If another activity demands your attention, instead of trying to attempt it while driving, pull off the road and stop your vehicle in a safe place. To avoid temptation, power down or stow devices before heading out.

— As a general rule, if you cannot devote your full attention to driving because of some other activity, it’s a distraction. Take care of it before or after your trip, not while behind the wheel.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board