Media campaign encourages safe driving

The next social media campaign will hit the Twittersphere on Thursday. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and as the latest effort to educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will launch a safety campaign they’re calling “#Just Drive.”

Starting at 8 a.m. Eastern time and running all day, the National High Traffic Safety Administration will share facts on the dangers of distracted driving, as well as tips and resources on how to make the roads safer. The administration urges social media users to join the fight against distracted driving by creating a social media frenzy using the hashtag #JustDrive.

According to data gathered by the California Traffic Safety Survey, 61 percent of Californians surveyed said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was talking or texting on a cellphone. However, cellphone use is not the only form of distracted driving. 

Distracted driving is anything that takes a driver’s eyes or mind off the road, or hands off the steering wheel. Other practices unsafe while driving include eating and drinking, grooming, adjusting the radio or music player, using a navigation system and talking with passengers.

“You can see when someone’s distracted when they’re driving, you pass them and their head is bobbing up and down,” said Mark Lothe, instructor at Miller Driving School in Cotati. “I tell my students to watch out for them because they can serve over at you. People don’t realize if they check a text for even just a second that at high speeds if someone in front of you slams on the breaks or a kid runs out [in the street], there’s nothing you can do to avoid a collision.”

#JustDrive is not the first campaign to raise awareness against distracted driving. The every 30 minutes program is a two-day alcohol awareness event held annually at the local high schools before prom and graduation. The program is based on the statistic that every 30 minutes, someone is killed in an alcohol-related crash. The program begins with the Grim Reaper removing student participants from class every 30 minutes to represent these fatalities. A mock car crash is also staged where police and fire respond as though it were a real alcohol-related crash with injuries, a fatality and a DUI arrest.

Another demonstration of unsafe driving habits was a hands-on driving event, which was designed to illustrate the dangers of distracted driving on area roadways. In 2012, St. Joseph Health of Sonoma County, the Simraceway Performance Driving Center, Farmers Insurance and the California Highway Patrol teamed up to show seven northern California high school students the dangers of distracted driving. The students completed a series of high-speed lane changes while juggling basic in-car distractions such as sending a one-word text message, adjusting the radio and opening the sunroof.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.

“The one [form of distraction] that’s probably the most disturbing for us is the texting,” said Lt. Bill French at the Cotati Police Department. 

French also said when texting, one has to type in the letters, making it so they have to take their eyes off the road. Many people have a habit of holding their phones in their lap while texting, so their eyes are focused on their hand while the car is traveling. French sees a concern for pedestrians who don’t always use the crosswalk. According to French, there’s especially a concern that at night someone will get hit down there.”

The goal of #JustDrive is to prevent accidents like the hypothetical one French described. French said if drivers must communicate while driving, it’s legal to have their phones on speaker phone mounted on the dashboard, or by using a hands-free device. Or drivers could download applications such as AT&T’s DriveMode app that silences incoming text message alerts to help drivers avoid distractions and stay focused while on the road. 

When enabled, the app turns on automatically when the vehicle is moving at 15 mph or more and turns off shortly after movement stops. Furthermore, an auto-reply can be sent letting the sender know one is behind the wheel.

Texting is not the only form of dangerous driving. Anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road, even conversing with passengers, is unsafe.

“Sometimes when I have students in the car, I’ll be talking to them and they feel like they have to look at me while we’re talking,” said Lothe. “That’s just not the case. Just worry about driving.” 

Whatever precaution drivers use to stay safe, the National Highway Traffic Safety reminds those on the road that the most effective safety habit is to remained focused and just drive.