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Editorial: Distracted driving deserves our full attention

We’ve all seen it, and – let’s be honest – we’ve all done it.

Driving down the road, we decide to have a little snack, reprogram the GPS, turn our heads to watch the birds fly by or spot those deer in the field, take a quick call on our cell phones... Whatever the case, our eyes leave the road and our attention turns elsewhere – and that’s the definition of distracted driving.

For all we hear about the dangers of speeding and, even more so, drunk driving, it’s easy to overlook this other, less talked about, culprit in car crashes.

But distracted driving deserves more attention.

Distracted driving is the number one leading cause of car accidents in the U.S., right ahead of speeding, and then drunk driving.

Driving while distracted increases the likelihood of an accident, and even experienced drivers who divert their gaze from the road for longer than 2 seconds increase their crash risk, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The administration has stated that driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, and texting while driving has replaced drinking and driving as the leading cause of accidents and deaths of teen drivers. Every day in the U.S., more than nine people are killed, and 1,060 injured, in crashes involving a distracted driver.

Recent concerns about texting and driving have sparked new conversations about distracted driving, especially regarding teens, and that’s a positive step in the right direction. But the problem of distracted driving started long before the invention of cell phones, and people of all ages are guilty of doing it. If we really hope to cut down on the number of accidents caused by distractions, we need to change some of our most common behaviors as drivers.

The best first step to take to do this is to stay educated on the types and dangers of distracted driving. That gives us the ability to recognize when we’re being distracted, and the motivation to do something about it.

The Department of Motor Vehicles recommends:

-Making and finishing phone calls before you start driving. If someone calls while you’re on the road, let your voicemail pick it up. If you must answer, pull over to a safe location before using the phone.

-Don’t text and drive.

-Allow yourself time to stop and eat somewhere, rather than trying to eat while driving.

-Teach young children that driving is an important job and that you must concentrate when you are behind the wheel. Give kids books, games or other toys to occupy their time. If you need to attend to your child, pull over to a safe place. Don’t try to handle children while driving.

-Make sure pets are secured in a safe place inside the vehicle. Never allow your pet to sit in your lap while you are driving.

-Adjust a vehicle’s controls (mirrors, radio, seat, etc.) before you begin to drive.

-Check your email, voicemail and any other portable devices you have before you begin driving.

-Make entries into your digital navigation systems before you go, not during.

-Remember that ‘looks can kill.’ Looking out your window at what you are passing while driving can be a serious distraction. Always focus on the road.

For more information about distracted driving, see page 12a of this week’s newspaper.