Spring break is ending for most of our local schools, so those road trips that are associated with those dates on the calendar are ending.

Summer, however, is not far off. That means more vehicles and more people on the road. And more chances for something bad to happen on the road.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are startling. 

According to the NHTSA’s 2019 data, distracted driving crashes killed 3,142 people in the U.S. That’s an average of nine people per day. It was also up from 10% in 2018.

Meanwhile, pedestrian deaths continue to increase, and distracted driving is believed to be the culprit in much of the added fatalities.

“Distraction by phone is a major factor in the increase of pedestrian deaths in our state and across the nation,” Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Allen Poole said after the 2018 pedestrian fatality figures were released.  “We have to continue our efforts to get drivers and pedestrians to keep their eyes on the road and not their phone and to encourage those on foot to always use crosswalks when available and to look before stepping out into the street.”

In Georgia, our hands-free law appears to be having some effect, in a positive way. The state had a 6% drop in vehicle passenger fatalities in 2018 from 2017. In 2019, according to the NHTSA, there were 43 fatal crashes involving a distracted driver in the state. 

The top three leading risk factors for distracted drivers are, according to AAA, mobile phone use, in-vehicle technology and passengers in the vehicle. But a 2019 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety nationwide survey found that 96% of drivers believe typing or reading on a hand-held cellphone while driving to be very dangerous, and 39% admitted to reading and 29% admitted to typing on a cellphone at least once in the past month when driving. AAA’s findings also showed that drivers who check their phones at stoplights — which is prohibited in Georgia — can have a “hangover effect,” leaving a person’s attention still directed at their phone or another device even after the light turns green.

“The bottom line is, if your mind is not focused on driving, you’re unable to properly react to what’s happening on the road in front of you,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA—The Auto Club Group. “That puts other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians at risk.”

AAA recommends the following tips:

• Put it away. Place your mobile device out of sight to prevent temptation.

• Know where you’re going. If using a navigation system, program the destination before driving.

• Pull over. If you must call or text while on the road, pull off the road safely and stop first.

• Ask passengers for help. If riding with someone, seek their help to navigate, make a call or send a message.

• Be a good passenger. Speak out if the driver of your vehicle is distracted.

• Don’t be a distraction. Avoid calling or texting others when you know they are driving.

• Activate Do Not Disturb. Setting up this feature on iPhone or Android device will prevent calls from coming in while you’re driving.

• Everyone should avoid distractions while in traffic. Just as drivers need to pay attention, so do pedestrians and bicyclists. Never call, text or play games while walking or cycling.

Keeping your focus on the road when you’re behind the wheel could save a life. Including yours.

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