Police educate residents on risks of distracted driving

B y Derek Liebig

The Whitehall Police Department wants to make sure you aren’t distracted.

The department is in the midst of an effort to educate local citizens of the dangers of distracted driving.

Patrol officer and department Information Technology Administrator Timothy Hardy has posted information on the dangers of distracted driving on the departments’ website and facebook page.

“It’s (distracted driving) so important. It’s a major safety concern for law enforcement right now,” Hardy said.

Included on the departments facebook page is a link to a public service announcement entitled, “Faces of Distracted Driving,” produced and disseminated by distraction.gov, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving. There is also other information on the dangers of distracted driving, as well.

Released in November of 2010, the videos feature clips from people across the country who have lost loved ones in distracted driving crashes.

The videos tell in a very poignant manner, the consequences of distracted driving. One video tells the story of 19 year old Chelsea Murphy and her unborn child who were killed when a teen driver talking on his cell phone struck her as she crossed the road.

According to distraction.gov, nearly 5,500 people were killed and 500,000 were injured in car accidents related to distracted driving in 2009 and 20 percent of injury crashes involved reports of distracted driving.  

Although officers with the Whitehall Police Department haven’t reported any local car accidents due to distracted driving, they insist the problem exists.

“It’s here, we aren’t seeing it everyday but it’s only a matter of time before we have an accident,” Hardy said.

The issue is especially prevalent among young drivers (under 20). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 16 percent of drivers in this age group that were involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.

Distracted driving is defined as any non-driving activity that has the potential to distract a person from driving and increases the risk of crashing. Examples include: eating and drinking, talking to passengers, reading, using a GPS unit, grooming, changing the radio station, and using a cell phone.

Off all the distractions, texting is considered to be the most dangerous because it includes all three types of distracted driving: visual, manual and cognitive.

In New York texting and handheld use of cell phones is illegal. Drivers can only use a cell phone if it is equipped with hands free technology, but even that could be considered distracting and drivers are encouraged to pull over if they need to make a call.

In fact, one study from the University of Utah found that using a cell phone while driving, hand held or hands free, delays a driver’s reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08.

In Vermont, texting is illegal for all drivers and handheld cell phone use is prohibited for drivers under the age of 18.

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