Commentary: Don’t drive intoxicated, don’t drive intexticated

Distracted driving is just not worth it

By Ken Grant and Cynthia Cavett

No life is worth losing to driver distraction. In Delaware, 197 people were involved in distracted-driving crashes in 2018, with three fatalities and 20 injuries, according to the latest data from the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.

Nationwide, nearly 3,000 people a year are killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, contributing to the 36,560 lives lost to crashes on U.S. roadways in 2018. There is no text message worth reading when injuring or killing someone is the potential cost.

The consequences of alcohol-impaired driving and texting while driving could be the same, so AAA Mid-Atlantic urges drivers, “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.” Put aside electronic distractions and never use text messaging, email, video games or internet functions, including those built into the vehicle, while driving. Stow your smartphone away, turn it to airplane mode or activate call/text-blocking features.

The Delaware Office of Highway Safety (OHS) is partnering with AAA Mid-Atlantic to help drivers and passengers understand that distractions include more than texting. Anything that diverts attention from driving — eating and drinking, adjusting navigation, talking to other passengers or talking or texting on the phone — can result in tragedy.

“The risks and consequences associated with driving while distracted are very real. The road ahead can change in an instant. The Office of Highway Safety supports awareness and high-visibility enforcement of distracted-driving laws to protect those traveling on roadways. We encourage motorists to focus on the task at hand and just drive,” said Kimberly Chesser, director of the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.

Despite what some drivers may think, hands-free is not risk-free. Even with your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel, you are not safe unless your mind focuses on the drive. Looking away from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk of a crash.

In March, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that Sgt. Anthony Mendez of Delaware State Police Troop 7 had won the 2020 Public Safety Award in recognition of his leadership in the creation of an innovative, nontraditional distracted-driving enforcement campaign in Delaware. Between January and April 2019, OHS partnered with Sgt. Mendez and the Delaware State Police to support the initiative in Sussex County. Troops 4, 5 and 7 worked in teams led and targeted back roads, while using Delaware Department of Transportation vehicles as stationary vantage points to identify and cite distracted drivers.

“Years ago, when I was a younger trooper, intoxicated driving was a frequent factor in the causation of crashes involving serious injury and death. Now, distracted driving has surpassed intoxication as the leading factor in our crash investigations,” said Sgt. Mendez. “Basically, distracted driving has become the new intoxicated driving.”

Avoid distractions while driving by setting vehicle systems like GPS, seats and sound systems before hitting the road, as well as finishing dressing and personal grooming at home before you leave.

Drivers should always stay focused and avoid anything that diverts attention. Be sure to actively scan the road, use mirrors and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Don’t allow a distraction like a text to change your life forever. Make your plans before you start driving and put your phone down,” said Sarah Cattie, Distracted Driving Program manager for the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.

Know and abide by state and city distracted-driving and driver mobile phone-use laws to avoid costly citations or worse — a lifechanging or deadly crash.

Plain and simple — focused drivers save lives. AAA urges all drivers to pay attention and focus on the road during this National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and all year long. For more information, visit aaa.com/dontdrivedistracted.

Ken Grant is manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic Delaware. Cynthia Cavett is public information officer for the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.