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School is Back: Distracted Driving Injures or Kills

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School is back in session, and school children are everywhere walking and riding their bikes to and from school. Extra caution is required to prevent injuries or death to these young children, who often are not looking for traffic.

Slow down, particularly in 20 mile-per-hour school zones, where speeding is a 6 point traffic offense which the police and prosecutors take very seriously. It would be horrible for everybody if a child were to be hit and injured or killed because a driver was speeding or not paying attention.

Here in Colorado Springs in 2016, 2 children were killed in crosswalks because of distracted driving. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) statistics show that there were 15,574 car crashes in Colorado in 2015 caused by distracted driving, with 68 deaths (https://www.codot.gov/safety/distracteddriving). The CDOT defines distracted driving as anything that takes the focus and attention of the driver away from the road.

The CDOT has identified the most common distractions as cell phones, applying makeup, eating, looking after children and pets, and looking at passengers while talking (https://coloradopolitics.com/cdot-director-blames-jump-traffic-fatalities-epidemic-distracted-driving/).   

In 2015, there were 546 Colorado traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving. Of those 546 deaths, 17 were caused by cell phone use. In El Paso County, there were 1,296 crashes caused by distracted driving in 2015.  Distracted driving was a factor in the 64 car crashes causing deaths in El Paso County in 2015.

So far in 2017, four school children in a school crosswalk were seriously injured when hit by a distracted driver.  Each year, there has been an increase in distracted driving crashes, and deaths resulting from those crashes. There was a 30% increase in pedestrians hit and killed by distracted drivers in Colorado from 2015 to 2016. In 2015, 64 pedestrians were hit and killed.  In 2016, 84 pedestrians were hit and killed. Distracted driving was a contributing factor in the majority of those fatal collisions.

Drivers younger than 18 are prohibited from using a cell phone while driving, and they can be fined and may risk losing their licenses. The only exception to this rule is emergency calls to the police or fire department. It is best to pull over to safely make emergency calls, particularly for drivers under the age of 18.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), distracted driving kills more than 8 people and injures 1,161 people each day in the United States. In Colorado, an estimated 57,298 distracted-driving crashes occurred between 2012 and 2015, with an average of 40 distracted-driving crashes occurring each day last year.

In a survey conducted by CDOT in November of 2016, 22% of Colorado drivers admitted to reading messages while driving, 64% use some sort of entertainment, and 33% talked on a hand-held phone while driving. According to the CDOT, distracted driving is a problem across all age groups. The CDOT found that 37.4% of Colorado distracted driving crashes between 2012-2014 involved people between the ages of 21 and 34. In a national survey, 98 percent of national survey respondents know distracted driving is dangerous; nearly 75% of drivers admitted to distracted driving.

Maile Gray, executive director of Drive Smart Colorado, supports the CDOT new distracted driving campaign because it targets adults as well as teens. “That is really important in my mind because it is not just a teen problem,” Gray said.  “Adults are driving distracted, I would probably say, at the same rate as teens.”  However, she said, “so many adults want to be in denial that they ever drive distracted.” (http://info.smartdrive.net/distracted-driving-webinar).  

The CDOT has a new campaign called “Killer Habit” which is intended to emphasize and publicize the seriousness of distracted driving. The campaign video, which ends with a car crash, has a voice saying: “Your digital addiction is a killer habit. Drop the distraction.”  This video is intentionally graphic and intense, showing a devastating crash caused by distracted driving.

The CDOT wants all drivers to be aware that the responsibility for safe driving begins with every driver, and we are all encouraged to slow down and avoid distractions, particularly in school zones and around pedestrian crosswalks.

Distracted driving causes crashes which injure and kill.

Nadine Sage