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Guest Editorial: Drivers should reduce distractions to lower number of crashes

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is urging motorists to eliminate distractions while driving in an effort to reduce distracted driving crashes statewide.

The Florida Highway Patrol, a division of the Motor Vehicles Department, is partnering with the Florida De- partment of Transportation, Florida Police Chiefs Asso- ciation, Florida Sheriffs Association and AAA – The Auto Club Group to promote April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

“When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car they should focus solely on driving,” said Florida Depart- ment of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes. “Distractions significantly lower a driver’s reaction time to effectively avoid a crash. Always keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and mind on driving to Arrive Alive.”

Preliminarily, in 2017, there were almost 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida.

That means, on average in 2017, there were 958 dis- tracted driving crashes per week. Distracted driving crashes have increased 25 percent since 2013.

Last year, these distracted driving crashes accounted for more than 3,000 serious bodily injuries and 200 fatalities.

“Distracted driving is extremely risky behavior that not only puts drivers and passengers in danger, but oth- ers out on the road as well,” said Colonel Gene S. Spaulding, director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “Fo- cused attention on driving increases your reaction time to dangerous driving situations, helps to prevent crashes and saves lives.”

There are different types of driver distractions, includ- ing: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel) and cognitive (your mind is not on driving).

Texting is one of the most dangerous driver distrac- tions since it involves visual, manual and cognitive distractions.

However, texting is not the only distracted driving be- havior — other dangerous driving distractions include putting on makeup; tending to children in the backseat;

eating; tuning the radio; checking GPS navigation; and even daydreaming.

April had the third highest number of distracted driv- ing crashes in 2017, followed by March and October, respectively.

Preliminarily, in 2017, drivers age 20–24 were respon- sible for the highest number of distracted driving crashes — followed closely by 25- to 29-year-olds and 15- to 19-year-olds.

Distracted driving crashes involving electronic devices accounted for nine percent of distracted driving crashes for 20- to 29-year-olds and were highest of any age group.

“No matter the age or number of years behind the wheel, no driver is immune to the devastating effects of distracted driving,” said Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “Distracted driving is 100 percent preventable, but too many choose not to focus on the road ahead. Today, I urge drivers across the state to put safety first and help protect Florida’s roads from danger.”

Added Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, “Texting while driving, along with other distractions, has resulted in tragic heartache for far too many families we proudly serve. To bring attention to this issue, the Florida Sheriff ’s Association fully supports the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ Focus on Driving campaign during the month of April.”

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles also is partnering with AAA – The Auto Club Group to educate motorists on the critical role of passengers and how important it is to be a good passen- ger.

“Sadly, we know that thousands of drivers are dis- tracted behind the wheel every day,” said Matt Nasworthy, Florida public affairs director for AAA – The Auto Group’s Traffic Safety Advocacy Division. “We implore all motorists to put safety first by focusing their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel and minds on the task of driving.”

Visit the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website for more information and re- sources for the Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign in April.

The public is encouraged to report dangerous and drunk drivers by dialing *FHP (*347) or 911.

Guest Editorial By: Captain Thomas Pikul, Florida Highway Patrol