This letter to the editor appeared in the April 9th edition of the Florida Times-Union.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. American drivers are texting and phoning at startling rates. In 2011, distracted driving killed 3,331 people and injured 387,000. According to a recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69% admit to cell phone use during a 30 day period.
Awareness and action are needed. Distracted driving is more common than the flu. Who can say they haven’t done it? Distracted drivers depend on luck to stay alive, and their luck won’t last.
Researchers from West Virginia University have called for vehicle technology that disables cell phones, but vehicle safety measures tend to develop incrementally, e.g., at first, lap belts, then lap-and-shoulder belts, and, now airbags. Florida still has no law on texting and cell phone use, but we don’t have to wait on legislation, we, ourselves, can all take simple, life-saving steps.
Safety begins with awareness, and that takes education. The Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow initiative was just announced by the JSO, FHP and FDOT to curb the death toll. Last April, civil justice attorneys in Jacksonville and across America teamed with EndDD.org and The Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation and taught nearly 50,000 high school students about the dangers. Because distracted driving is such a public health threat, our firm offers this vital information to students year-round, and we’ve expanded the presentations to include employers and the workforce.
Smartphones accelerated our hyperconnected society. They seem to have become our companions for life, but using them behind the wheel can end our lives. It is past time to confront the issue. People are taking action. They are powering down to avoid the temptation, or using apps to disable their phones while driving. OSHA pegs distracted driving as a workplace hazard, and many employers are training about the danger and adopting policies to end it.
There’s only one job behind the wheel. Careful drivers focus just on that job. It is easier than you might think to make changes so the total focus is on driving. That will help each of us arrive alive and make the roadways safer for everyone.
Wayne Hogan is president of the Terrell • Hogan Law Firm. He offers complimentary end distracted driving presentations to area employers, civic groups and high schools.