Distracted driving isn’t all about phone use

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, April 17, 2013

By Stephanie Carroll Carson

NC News Service

RALEIGH – More than 50,000 North Carolinians are injured every year from distracted-driving accidents, and this month across the state and the nation the focus is on prevention.

Joel Feldman’s daughter was struck and killed by a distracted driver in 2009, and he said studies show that teens who grow up in a household where the parents drive distracted are two to four times more likely to drive distracted themselves when they get behind the wheel.

“I drove distracted all the time before my daughter was killed,” Feldman confessed. “I was a poor role model: I would drive distracted with my kids in the car.”

Feldman, who established the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation in memory of his daughter, believes education is the key to reducing distracted driving. He said laws against cell phone use can be passed, but three-quarters of injuries and deaths involve distractions other than cell phones, things such as eating or reaching back to tend to an infant.

According to Peter Wetherall, one of 40 lawyers who just trained with Feldman to carry the message into schools, personal-injury lawyers can be effective communicators because they see firsthand the tragic consequences of distracted driving.

“Part of this program isn’t just to point the finger at the students and say you’re doing wrong, but really to have them be the conscience of their parents driving them around,” the attorney said. “So, it’s a two-way street; it’s an interesting presentation that way.”

Texting while driving is prohibited in North Carolina, but there are no laws against using a handset while driving. Wetherall said he believes any phone conversations in the car take drivers’ attention off the road.

“If you’re in a phone conversation, it doesn’t matter if you are hands-free or not,” he noted. “It’s lack of focus on the road that is causing the danger.”

Meanwhile, NCDOT is launching a campaign – “Zombies” Hang Up the Phone, Pay Attention to the Road. That effort comes in time to recognize April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

“Zombies don’t just roam the streets on top-rated television shows. They drive on North Carolina roads every day – with cell phones in hand – putting other motorists at risk,” said NCDOT officials in a press release.

The N.C. Department of Transportation wants to put the brakes on this zombie outbreak by highlighting the dangers of distracted driving during April.

Last year, 904 crashes occurred in North Carolina in which the investigating officers found an electronic device such as a cell phone contributed to the accidents. Those crashes included two fatalities and 276 injuries.

“These accidents are preventable,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “We strongly urge drivers to stop multi-tasking and pay attention to the road. The simple act of putting down the phone when you get into the car could save your life or the life of someone you love.”

A study by CarnegieMellonUniversity found that using a cell phone while driving reduces the brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. With more than one-third of the driver’s brain not focused on the road, it virtually turns them into a zombie.

Nationwide, some 3,000 Americans lost their lives in distracted-driving accidents in 2010.

Driving statistics are at ZeroFatalities.com, and more on the distracted-driving issue is at CaseyFeldmanFoundation.org.