Don’t be an April Fool, Drive Distraction-Free

by Gwen Newell

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and AAA wants motorists in the Carolinas to avoid being April Fools by minimizing ALL distractions when driving.

Driver distractions come in many forms and a lot of them are overlooked because of how normalized they’ve become in our everyday commutes. Eating, drinking, personal grooming, adjusting the radio, using our cell phones, texting, other passengers – are all distractions, and taking your eyes off the road for more than just two seconds doubles your risk of a crash. View AAA’s Distracted Driving Fact Sheet

Distracted driving is especially dangerous for people who are walking, biking, or otherwise outside of a vehicle. According to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), nearly one in five distracted driving deaths were non-motorists. Additionally, it’s been reported that 400,000 people are injured in distraction-related crashes every year. And in 2020, there were 3,138 who were killed nationwide, but the true numbers are likely much higher due to underreporting.

Now let’s talk about one of the biggest distractions behind the wheel – smartphone use! Drivers that use cell phones while behind the wheel are up to four times as likely to be involved in a crash. Further, research shows that hands-free cell phones offer no significant safety benefits over handheld phones. This means hands-free is not always risk-free. AAA research continues to reveal a strong ‘do as I say, not as I do’ attitude towards distracted driving and many other driving activities/behaviors. About a quarter of drivers report typing or sending a text message or email and more than 1 in 3 report reading a text or email while driving in the past month.

According to federal crash data, nearly 13% of distraction-affected crashes involved confirmed use of a smartphone. This represents roughly 1% of all fatal crashes, which underscores that while smartphone use is most frequently blamed for driver distraction, there are many other causes of distraction-affected crashes. So, what can motorists do to avoid distracted driving?

  • Fully focus on driving. Do not let anything divert your attention, actively scan the road, use your mirrors and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Put aside your electronic distractions. Don’t use cell phones while driving – handheld or hands-free – except in absolute emergencies. Never use text messaging, email functions, video games or the internet with a wireless device, including those built into the vehicle, while driving.
  • Make adjustments before you get underway. Address vehicle systems like your GPS, seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before hitting the road. Decide on your route and check traffic conditions ahead of time.
  • Ask your passengers for help with navigation or other functions, so you can focus safely on driving.
  • Pull off the road and stop your vehicle in a safe place if another activity demands your attention. To avoid temptation, power down or stow devices before heading out.

As a general rule, if you cannot devote your full attention to driving because of some other activity, it’s a distraction. Take care of it before or after your trip, not while behind the wheel.

In conclusion, AAA has been committed to raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and continues its campaign Disconnect and Drive in the Carolinas. As part of a partnership with NCHSAA (North Carolina High School Athletic Association), AAA will receive entitlement of a new Take the Pledge School Challenge that will run through April 30. Students from all NCHSAA and NCISAA member schools are encouraged to “Take the Pledge” to drive distraction-free by visiting the Disconnect & Drive website (disconnectanddrive.com) and entering their name and school affiliation. The school with the highest percentage of students that “Take the Pledge” will receive a $500 donation and all students that “Take the Pledge” will have a chance to win a $500 scholarship!

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