This second segment of our Crash Trends Series looks at distracted driving, one of the most critical current safety issues. This occurs when vehicle operators are texting, tending to children, eating, or reading while driving. Reports suggest that although drivers are aware of the problem, they continue to allow distractions to jeopardize themselves and others on the road. Proving that a driver was distracted is more difficult than, for example, driving under the influence of alcohol, which can be determined with a breath test. In response to this problem, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper recently finalized legislation that increases the penalty for a first offense to a $300 fine and imposes four points on the violator's driving record. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) launched a “Drop the Distraction” initiative that seeks to educate the public. Darrell Lingk, a Director with CDOT, explained that they hope to convince drivers that distracted driving can have serious consequences.
Current Data on Distracted Driving in Colorado
Distracting driving-related fatalities continue to rise in Colorado and now are estimated to cause nearly 40 collisions each day. Approximately 22% of those surveyed admitting to reading text messages while operating, 33% say they talk on the phone while driving, and 64% have viewed entertainment while behind the wheel. The Colorado fatality statistics are as follows:
- 2014: 59 of the 488 fatalities (12%) were attributed to distracted driving
- 2015: 68 of the 546 fatalities (13%) were attributed to distracted driving
- 2016: 67 fatalities were attributed to distracted driving
It is critical to keep in mind that these statistics are likely quite modest estimates, as many instances go unreported. The problem exists among drivers of all ages, yet drivers under 34-years old makeup roughly 37% of the violators.
Safe Driving Applications
Several safe-driving applications are currently available, according to CDOT as follows:
- AT&T DriveMode: Can be set to activate when a driver is operating and effectively blocks incoming calls and texts until the vehicle has stopped. AT&T customers can even have an auto-reply sent letting those who are attempting to contact you know that you are driving.
- Life Saver: This free application combines the features of GPS and places a warning on the screen of your mobile device reminding the driver to keep focused on the road. A Driver Portal feature allows parents to monitor teen driving.
- TrueMotion Family: Provides a current summary of distracted driving activity among all family members and maintains an individual “score” for each based on compliance.
- SafeRide: Works well with Bluetooth devices to eliminate audio signals emitted from mobile devices while operating a vehicle. Messages are delivered immediately after the vehicle arrives at the destination.
Preventing Distracted Driving Among Teens in Colorado
Traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death among teenagers, largely due to driver inexperience. The state prohibits those under 18 from using mobile devices in any manner while driving, with the exception of emergency calls. Colorado has a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) law already in place, yet CDOT encourages parents to be more involved in their children's driving behaviors. One suggested practice is a Parent/Teen Driving Contract which outlines the rules in a clear format regarding passengers, curfew, distractions, speed, traffic law adherence and periodic times for “checking in”.
CDOT Coffee Sleeve Campaign
One unique aspect of “Drop the Distraction” involves the massive distribution of 250,000 coffee cup sleeves to over 70 coffee shops in the greater Denver region. The sleeves have printed messages reminding drivers to avoid texting while driving and detail the new enhanced penalties for violator. In addition, the effort is supplemented through local ads on Pandora and radio commercials.
School Zone Device Usage
Unfortunately, far too many drivers are failing to adhere to rules for mobile devices while traveling in school zones. A national study evaluated the prevalence of this dangerous practice among 45 million drivers in over 70,000 U.S. zones. Approximately 88% of drivers were determined to have violated at some point. Letter grades reflecting performance were assigned and statewide Colorado received a “C” grade, while Denver received an “F”.