NHTSA Fights Distracted Driving

young woman driving on highway while reading / writing text on smart phone.

Driving is by its nature a dangerous endeavor — statistically the most dangerous activity that Americans engage in every day. Driving involves constant control of a heavy machines at high speeds through traffic and other hazards. Giving your full attention to the road and other drivers is paramount to being safe and avoiding an accident.

With the rising popularity of texting as a primary form of communication, the temptation to send or read a quick message while driving can be irresistible. However, texting while driving is extremely dangerous. Studies show that taking your eyes off the road for even four seconds can lead to disaster. Drivers who text are twice as likely to get in an accident as drivers who are over the legal limit of alcohol.

This is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is putting forth proposed voluntary guidelines for vehicle makers to attempt to reduce the amount of distracted driving. So much of what distracts us while driving (texts, phone calls, GPS navigation) now comes built right into the dash of our cars. While it is preferable that drivers not engage in any activities while driving, the NHTSA recognizes that drivers are unavoidably going to answer their phones and get driving directions. Therefore, the NHTSA proposes disabling these features while the vehicle is not in park, and leaving only the most rudimentary services available (anything that the driver can engage by looking at for less than two seconds.) The NHTSA is creating voluntary restrictions instead of pushing for federal mandates because they want to get these rules out quickly. Federal mandates can take years, and the NHTSA does not want to lose the momentum the have gained in educating the public about the dangers of distracted driving.

Car manufacturers have had their own set of voluntary guidelines since 2002, but welcome the input from the NHTSA. Mentioned were the hands-free systems that many modern cars are equipped with, allowing drivers to text, call and use their navigations systems without ever taking their eyes off the road or their hands off the wheel. The practicality of systems that shut off while the vehicle is in motion was also called into question. Often times, there are passengers in those vehicles who could, say, input an address into the GPS. In addition, if these features were not provided on-board, accessories could simply be bought and brought into the vehicle.

Over 3,000 of the deaths in auto accident crashes in 2010 were at least partially caused by distracted driving. This number is high — and the worst part is it’s something almost all of us are guilty of. While we can hope that drivers will be responsible enough to give all their attention to the road, perhaps automatic shut-off systems will save more lives than they will inconvenience people. In the meantime, though, it’s up to each of us to be responsible drivers. When you are reckless on the road, you endanger more than just yourself. You never know whose innocent life you might impact. There’s no excuse for distracted driving, and you should do your part to avoid a tragedy.

Do your part in the fight against distracted driving

Distracted driving, whether we engage in it or not, affects all of us, and all our loved ones.Distracted drivers put themselves and others on the road at risk. Unlike driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there is not yet a stigma attached to distracted driving. Texting while driving is seen a harmless and a necessary part of modern life, yet the risks are so high that texting while driving is a leading cause of death among our young people. Do you want to know what you can do? Visit Teens Against Distracted Driving, a Bellevue-based non-profit seeking to raise awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. Pledge to not drive distracted!

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