Guest Column: Distracted Driving

SPECIAL OFFER FOR HISTORIC CITY NEWS READERS

Safety education is an important mission of your St. John’s County Sheriff’s office and one area that is becoming a growing concern is distracted driving.

Although driver distractions have been frequent causes of traffic accidents since the advent of the automobile, cell phones have greatly increased the number of crashes resulting from one of the three types of distractions affecting your safe driving.

First there is visual distraction … something that results in your taking your eyes off the road. The second distraction is cognitive … taking your mind off the road and lastly there is manual distraction that results in your taking your hands off the wheel.

In the case of cell phones, placing or receiving a call from your phone while driving without the benefit of the “hands free” option can result in all three of the typical distraction types occurring and increasing the likelihood of being involved in crash.

With texting while driving the chances of being involved in a serious traffic accident increase 300% according to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The NHTSA statistics are alarming. In 2008 there were 5870 people killed in accidents caused by texting while driving and 515,000 people were seriously injured.

Fatalities in all accidents caused by texting drivers in 2009 amounted to 16% of the nationwide total of traffic deaths. The growing concern regarding the hazard of texting while driving has resulted in three states passing laws making it illegal.

Federal law prohibits texting while driving for operators of commercial vehicles.

Last year an effort in the Florida Legislature to approve a similar ban failed.

A comparative study published by a leading car magazine of texting while driving versus drunk driving statistics found texting drivers more likely to cause a crash.

Many consider the problem of texting while behind the wheel a greater problem with teen drivers.

A survey by the Pew Research Center last year found that not necessarily true.

Forty seven percent of adults said they did text and drive, while the figure for teens, was 39%.

Major media outlets in our area are spearheading a campaign asking citizens to take a pledge not to use cell phones in any manor while driving.

Even if you don’t formerly join the Great First Coast Hang up I ask all drivers in St. John’s County to follow the practice and help us save lives.

There are many other distractions that result in unsafe driving and traffic accidents.

Among the most common are: looking at an accident or other incident where first responders are on the scene known to deputies as “rubber necking”; unruly and misbehaving children in the vehicle; eating, shaving or applying makeup while driving; reading roadmaps, newspapers, or interactive screens such GPS or audio options and retrieving dropped items such as a lit cigarette.

At the St. John’s County Sheriff’s Office we take traffic safety seriously.

I am proud that our efforts in deputy training, enforcement and traffic safety education last year won first place among counties of similar size in the Florida Law Enforcement Challenge.

I urge you to help us keep the roadways of St. John’s County safe.

If you witness frequent incidents of speeding or other traffic violations please call our Traffic Safety Hotline at 904-810-6776 and record the location so we may increase our enforcement effort in that area.

Also if you witness someone driving recklessly please call 911 or your local law enforcement agency.

I hope this information assists you in your travels. There is much more information available from our website at www.sjso.org, and of course, you may contact me anytime at my e-mail address: dshoar@sjso.org.

David B. Shoar
St. Johns County Sheriff

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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