You don’t typically have to drive very far on any given day before you see someone doing something they shouldn’t. This month, law enforcement officials are putting an emphasis on distracted driving. They’re primarily looking for people who are talking or texting on their cell phones while they drive. It’s a pretty simple slogan: “U text, U drive, U lose.”
Here are some statistics, which we found staggering but not surprising:
• The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found in a 2009 study that the average text message takes drivers’ eyes off the road for five seconds while it’s being composed — enough time to travel the length of a football field while essentially being blindfolded.
• The number of people killed in distracted driving-related incidents was 3,328 in 2012, down slightly from 3,360 in 2011, according to www.distracted.gov. Yet an estimated 421,000 people were injured in crashes that involved a distracted driver in 2012, a 9 percent increase from the previous year.
• 71 percent of teens and young adults admit they’ve composed or sent a text message while they’ve been driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission.
• 78 percent of the same group of people admit they’ve read a text message while they’ve been driving, according to the commission.
In our state, talking or texting on a handheld device is no longer a secondary violation — it’s a primary offense, meaning officers can initiate a traffic stop if they see it. Novice drivers are not even allowed to use hands-free technology.
And, really, it’s a safety issue.
Gig Harbor Police Lt. Kelly Busey said the department’s officers don’t see it as often when they’re in marked patrol cars, but it’s a different story when they’re in unmarked vehicles.
“It’s every third car,” Busey said. “It’s crazy.”
Officers see everything from cell phone use to people putting on makeup — even someone reading a book while they’ve been driving, Busey said.
It’s a month-long campaign, but Gig Harbor officers will have a special emphasis from April 10-15, when they’ll specifically target distracted driving offenses with “heavy enforcement,” Busey said. The department is part of a coalition that includes Fircrest, Tacoma and Fife police, and they’ll use a grant from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission to put extra officers on the streets.
It’s no secret, either: Four digital readerboards at key points in town inform drivers of the patrol.
So put down your phone and pay attention to the road. You’ll make travel safer for yourself and all your fellow drivers.
And, by the way, it’s the law.