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Report Indicates Distracted Driving Increasing in Pennsylvania

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April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and Pennsylvania drivers may want to pay attention. According to recent news reports, “more distracted drivers were busted in Allegheny County, Westmoreland County, and statewide last year than in any year since Pennsylvania’s 2012 ban on texting and driving went into effect.”

The data came from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and shows that police issued 43 percent more distracted driving citations in 2015 than in 2014. Monroe County had the dubious honor of being the 10th fastest-growing municipality in the state for distracted driving, with three times the citations in 2015 as 2012.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) kicked off its third national enforcement campaign on April 4th, attempting to increase consumer awareness of the problem through television, radio, and digital advertising.

What is Distracted Driving?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 3,129 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2014, while 431,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers.

When defining “distracted driving,” the DOT states that it includes any activity that “could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” These activities might include:

• Using a cell phone or smartphone
• Texting
• Reading, including maps
• Eating and drinking
• Watching a video
• Using a navigation system
• Talking to passengers
• Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
• Personal grooming

Texting, because it requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention, is considered “by far” the most dangerous type of distraction. Pennsylvania law bans texting, including reading messages, while behind the wheel, as well as reading or writing an email, updating a Facebook status, or wearing headphones or earbuds.

Awareness, Education, Enforcement, Technology

The DOT and the NHTSA believe the best way to cut back on distracted driving is by increasing awareness, educating all Americans about the dangers, and stepping up enforcement. That’s why they have been conducting annual enforcement campaigns in April, with advertisements warning: “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.”

So far, it’s unclear whether these types of programs are having the desired effect. According to an AAA study released this year, 87 percent of drivers still report engaging in risky behaviors like texting while behind the wheel. It seems drivers have still failed to grasp the danger, and remain unaware of how long these distractions take their eyes and attention off the road. While motorists believed their attention was distracted for only 10 seconds on average when completing other tasks like dialing a phone, the AAA foundation reports that it can be as long as 27 seconds.

Others believe that the answer lies in technology. Jeff Haley, acting executive director of the Distracted Driving Foundation, for instance, stated that new technology systems could be more effective in curbing the problem, particularly if they change the way phones operate when the user is behind the wheel.

“Just put that in the phone or in the cars and in the cellphone towers,” he said, so that texting becomes impossible.