Drive like it’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Guest Column

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Knudson is Fort Meade’s provost marshal and director of the Directorate of Emergency Services.

A few Aprils ago, one of my predecessors wrote an article for Soundoff! imploring drivers on Fort Meade to drive distraction-free.

Last fall, I highlighted the issue of cellphone usage while driving on Fort Meade.

Attempting to defy the definition of insanity — doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different outcome — I’m trying again.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety just released its Traffic Safety Culture Index for 2017. This report noted that 87.5 percent of drivers believe distracted driving is currently the most serious driving problem. It also noted 96.8 percent think texting and driving is a very or somewhat serious threat to personal safety.

Distracted driving is now more concerning than drunk drivers. It accounts for an average of 3,500 deaths and about 391,000 injuries each year in the U.S.

And yet people are still driving distracted on the roads.

In that same report, 44.9 percent of drivers admitted reading and 34.6 percent admitted sending texts or email while driving.

As a result, law enforcement is increasingly encountering distracted driving. The Maryland State Police is specifically targeting distracted driving in April.

In the past three years, they’ve issued 36,632 citations for distracted driving.

Montgomery County Police are similarly executing random distracted driver stings. At the beginning of April, they stopped 65 distracted drivers in only two hours at one intersection.

Fort Meade Police are similarly conducting a distracted driving campaign. Tickets can cost $83 for a first offense and $160 for further offenses.

The Maryland legislature is considering increasing the first-offense fine to $500.

And yet people are still driving distracted on the roads.

I’m sure you’ve seen it, too: The car in the highway’s left lane traveling 15 mph under the speed limit and swerving in the lane or onto the shoulder. Or the car that sits at an intersection for 10 seconds after the light turns green.

In these and other cases, it’s because the driver of that car is driving distracted. And you just can’t believe they’d do that.

And yet people are still driving distracted on the road.

So what can you do? First, know that distracted driving is more than just texting, emailing or updating social media while driving.

Distracted driving includes anything that prevents you from devoting your full attention to driving. This includes doing the following while driving: eating or drinking, applying makeup, looking at your radio while changing the dial, inputting information into your GPS, watching a movie on your tablet (Yes, I’ve seen this), or using radio headphones (also illegal).

Second, you can increase your ability to focus on your driving:

  • Avoid making phone calls while driving. At a minimum, use a hands-free device.
  • Do not text, email or use social media while driving.
  • Do not take photos or videos while driving.
  • Avoid distracting conversations with your passengers.
  • Input destinations into your GPS before your drive.
  • Make vehicle adjustments (mirrors, radio, climate control) before you drive.
  • Minimize eating and drinking while driving.
  • Keep your eyes on the road.

Help reverse the trend of distracted driving. Take the pledge to drive distraction-free at https://www.nsc.org/forms/DistractedDriving-Pledge.

Focus on your driving when you’re on the road. Don’t be “that driver” who has annoyed you for driving distracted.

And through your actions, help reduce the number of people who are still driving distracted on the road.

Team Meade!

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