Awareness, action needed to stop distracted driving; special corridor is in placeSFlb

Throughout April, Ohio and other states across the nation amp up campaigns to alert motorists of the life-threatening dangers posed by distracted driving.

In the Mahoning Valley this year, Distracted Driving Awareness Month activities include creation of the state’s first Distracted Driving Corridor along a stretch of the heavily traveled Interstate 76 and Interstate 80 corridor in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Within that corridor, Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers will invest additional resources into looking out for drivers distracted by texting, reading, using tablet or smartphone features, eating or applying cosmetics, among other diversions.

We commend the OSHP and the Ohio Department of Transportation for that concrete effort to reduce the number of accidents and the amount of carnage associated with distracted driving.

But like the Buckeye State’s laws governing this dangerous driving behavior, the initiative falls short of its potential of making a real dent in apprehending those who casually play Russian Roulette on our roadways.

That’s because in Ohio, distracted driving remains a secondary offense for adults, meaning that drivers can receive a citation for that offense only if they are pulled over for another infraction, such as speeding, not wearing a seat belt or weaving into another lane.

As such, Ohio finds itself in the embarrassing minority of states that lack primary enforcement powers for distracted driving for adults.

According to the National Safety Council, 43 states and the District of Columbia treat distracted driving as the deadly threat that it is by codifying it as a primary offense for all motorists.

Thousands of accidents

The result of such lax enforcement standards manifests itself in data on distracted driving compiled by the OSHP. Last year, for example, the patrol reported about 14,000 motor-vehicle accidents in Ohio resulting from driver distraction, and from 2016 to 2017, the number of fatal crashes due to inattention to the road nearly doubled to 51.

But as Tina Yanssens emphasized at the rollout of the corridor campaign earlier this week, that data are more than impersonal numbers; they represent people whose lives have been snuffed out. Since her father was killed while walking along a road by a driver engaged in texting near his Springfield Township home, she has been on a personal mission to educate drivers about the high-stakes risks of driving while multitasking.

As Lt. Brent Meredith, commander of the Fremont Post of the OSHP, explained, “Every time sometone takes their eyes or their minds off the road – even for just a few seconds – they put their lives and the lives of others in danger. Distracted driving is unsafe and irresponsible. In a split second, its consequences can be devastating.”

That’s why it’s critical for drivers to recognize the risks. Data from the safety council and other groups show:

Drivers using cellphones are four times as likely to be in a crash. About 1 out of every 4 motor vehicle crashes involves cell phone use.

Some 26 percent of crashes involve talking on hand-held and hands-free cell phones. Hands-free is not risk-free. Hands-free phones do not eliminate cognitive distraction.

Drivers who are texting are eight to 23 times more likely to cause a crash.

Driving distracted is widely recognized as just as dangerous as driving intoxicated.

Driving while using a cellphone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

Of course, combatting distracted driving should be a primary personal responsibility. It happens most commonly when drivers take their eyes off the road, their hands off the steering wheel or their mind off maneuvering roads and traffic.

Enforcement tool

But combating distracted driving should also be a primary enforcement tool of highway patrol and local police officers. Until that tool becomes a reality in the Buckeye State, even the most well-organized and comprehensive awareness-month campaigns will continue to sputter along far short of their potential.

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