Distracted driving accidents are preventable
Imagine being behind the wheel. You have a chatty passenger to your left, and kids are screaming in the back seat. Your phone is ringing, and you are trying to sneak in some lunch. All the while, it is busy traffic, and pedestrians are crossing the street.
These are the kind of scenarios that the distracted driving simulator creates. The simulator is like a video game, but it has a message. These realistic distractions while driving can result in fatal accidents.
About 40 individuals from different local businesses came to the Steele County Safety Council’s luncheon on Jan. 13 featuring a distracted driving presentation by Minnesota State Patrol Sergeant Troy Christianson.
Those that attended the luncheon had the opportunity to try the distracted driving simulator before and after the presentation. The simulator has a wheel and pedals with a screen that shows the road, traffic, pedestrians and other distractions.
Julie Rethemeier of Federated Insurance tried the simulator. She lasted a few minutes of distractions before “crashing.”
“It was a little eye opening,” she said. “It seemed harder here, but in reality, these distractions are very serious.”
Christianson brings the simulator to high schools when he gives presentations about distracted driving.
“The thing is, distracted driving accidents resulting in death or injury is completely preventable,” he told attendees. “It’s time for a change.”
He said that in 2014, there were 1,500 accidents that resulted from distracted driving accidents in Southern Minnesota. Five hundred were fatal crashes. His presentation revealed that the most dangerous days to drive are Fridays and Mondays, likely due to distracted weekend travelers, Christianson speculated. The safest day to drive is Tuesday.
Some of the most dangerous distractions are eating or drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, looking for the items on the floor, reading (including maps), using a GPS, watching videos and adjusting the radio/CD player.
What is the number one cause of distraction? Cell phones.
“The average text message takes about 5 seconds to compose, which is enough time to travel the entire length of a football field,” said Christianson. “That’s a lot of area to not be paying attention.”
He said that texting while driving doubles the risk of rear-end collisions, because the distraction slows a driver’s reaction time by 18 percent.
“Cell phone gadgets are probably not going away, so we hope that some other technology can combat this,” said Christianson. He gave the example of technology that only plays the radio if all are wearing their seatbelts.
When it comes to cell phone use in the car, it is illegal in Minnesota to text and drive. It is legal for adults over 18 to talk on their cell phones.
When a driver is caught texting while driving, the ticket cost is $155. The second offense and following is $375.
“A lot of people think that they are good at multi-tasking, but research has proven that the mind can only focus on one task well,” said Christianson.
The USA Educational Foundation provides some top ways to avoid distracted driving, including the following: plan ahead, know your route, don’t eat, drink or smoke in the vehicle, keep volume at a reasonable level and let calls go to voicemail.
There were many parents present in the audience that were curious about how they can help educate their children about distracted driving.
“Parents need to take a role. The best thing parents can do is not do it themselves,” said Christianson. “With such fast paced lives, kids think everything is so crucial to respond at that second. We need to enforce that it isn’t worth dying over.”