Distracted Driving is the New DUI
The campaign against drunk driving has worked. Yes, there are still far too many accidents occurring due to drunk driving, but the chief success has been in the fundamental change in public attitudes.
We no longer tolerate the idea that drunk driving is acceptable as long as the driver manages to avoid accidents. Instead, we view the act of driving drunk a violation of the basic social contract for using the roads. Even though criminal penalties for a DUI conviction are serious, a legal expert notes that “the stigma associated with drunk driving (along with other consequences outside the legal system) can be far more harmful.”
Partly as a result of the campaign against drunk driving, traffic fatalities have been falling in America — to some 32,800 deaths in 2010.
The progress against drunk driving opens up a new opportunity to advance the cause of road safety, by addressing the risks of distracted driving. Distracted driving is any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving, and increases the risk of crashing. The U.S. Department of Transportation identifies three types of distraction: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off what you're doing).
People are often surprised at how much serious the risk is from distracted driving. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has noted that distracted driving caused 5,500 deaths and 450,000 injuries across the country in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Another source finds that “distraction accounted for 16% of traffic deaths in 2009 (up from 10% in 2005) and for 20% of injuries.”
Of course, in recent years the issue of drivers using cell phones for speech and for sending text messages has entered the public consciousness, but many people refuse to take the risk seriously. Yet the danger is severe.Continued on the next page