SACRAMENTO–April is recognized as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. In California, the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), and Impact Teen Drivers (ITD), as well as community partners and law enforcement agencies throughout the state, are working together to make the roads safer.
The campaign aims to end distracted driving through education and raise awareness about the associated dangers. The goal is to change motorist behaviors and save lives, not just in the month of April, but year-round. The week of April 3 to 9 is California Teen Safe Driver Week and in conjunction with the National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, safety presentations will be held at various high schools and venues throughout the state to teach teens the reality and consequences of distracted driving.
“Distracted driving is absolutely avoidable, but it continues to be a serious problem among drivers. Too many lives are lost every year due to distracted driving,” CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said. “We believe that through continued education and enforcement, the number of deaths and injuries can be reduced.”
To better understand the dangers and consequences of smartphone distracted driving, AT&T is bringing its virtual reality simulator to more than 50 California schools and communities for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month this year as part of its IT CAN WAIT initiative. “AT&T is proud to join the California Highway Patrol, the Office of Traffic Safety, and Impact Teen Drivers in this important effort to remind everyone that smartphone distracted driving is not only extremely dangerous, it is completely preventable,” said Ken McNeely, President, AT&T California. “We encourage everyone to take the IT CAN WAIT pledge – to keep your eyes on the road, not your phone – and help keep our roads safe. No text, e-mail, or social media post is worth a life.”
California drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using a cell phone or a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124). Lawmakers agree that distracted driving continues to be a problem among California’s motorists. On January 1, Assembly Bill 1785 went into effect, requiring all California drivers to keep a cell phone out of their hands while operating a motor vehicle. Under the new law, a driver may activate or deactivate a feature or function of the cell phone or wireless communication device by swiping or tapping its screen only if it is mounted or not being held in a driver’s hand.
In California, there were 85 people killed in collisions in which distracted driving was a factor in 2015, 87 in 2014, and 84 in 2013. The number of injured victims due to these collisions for the same three-year period shows an increase: 10,078 in 2013, 10,540 in 2014, and 11,262 in 2015. “These statistics are likely much higher and are often under-reported to law enforcement since motorists don’t always admit to driving distracted,” said Commissioner Farrow.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 71 percent of young people admit to sending a text while driving. Furthermore, 10 percent of all drivers ages 15 to 19 involved in fatal collisions were reported as distracted at the time of the collisions. The NHTSA reports that 3,477 people were killed and an estimated 391,000 injured in motor vehicle collisions involving distracted drivers in 2015. That is a 9 percent increase in fatalities as compared to the previous year.
“The message is out, and people know that distracted driving is dangerous,” said Dr. Kelly Browning, Executive Director of Impact Teen Drivers. “Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go to change attitudes and behaviors about distracted driving. Just as it took a change in the driving culture through education and enforcement to reach a 98 percent seat belt compliance rate in California, so too will it take a multifaceted approach to eliminate distracted driving.”
According to a study conducted by NHTSA and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, distracted driving is “anything that diverts the driver’s attention away from the primary tasks of navigating a vehicle and responding to critical events.” A distraction can be: visual – something that takes your eyes off the road; cognitive – something that takes your mind off of the road; or manual – something that takes your hands off the steering wheel.
The CHP will join other law enforcement agencies throughout the state to conduct education and zero tolerance enforcement efforts to discourage distracted driving. Officers will enforce cell phone and texting laws as well as other Vehicle Code violations.
“Law enforcement would rather see everyone off their cell phones than hand out a lot of tickets,” said Rhonda Craft, Director of the Office of Traffic Safety. “Take care of calling, texting, setting your GPS, and everything else before you hit the street. Apps are great, but not while you’re driving.”