OP-ED: A timely Fairfield program targets ‘distracted driving’
There are lots of ways to be a lousy driver. Drunk driving has always topped the list. “Road rage” is a more modern name given to an old phenomenon. Pretty soon, depending on current discussions in the state legislature that could legalize recreational marijuana, “stoned” drivers may become a new trend.
A Distracted Driving Awareness program kicked off at Fairfield police headquarters Monday, making the point that you don’t have to be drunk or stoned to be a dangerous driver.
State Senator Tony Hwang led the initiative with support from First Selectman Mike Tetreau, Police Chief Chris Lyddy, police officers and traffic safety advocates. Related data was presented by Neil K. Chaudhary, CEO of Preusser Research Group, Inc.; and Fran Mayko, AAA Northeast spokeswoman.
“We have seen rates of distracted driving increasing over time, we also have seen how people are distracted change over time,” Chaudhary said. “Specifically, the predominant observed behavior was hand-held cell phone use or talking on a phone while driving. In more recent years however, we have seen a shift toward texting while driving.”
“There is a lot that people may not understand in terms of why distracted driving is so dangerous. Some people believe they can divide their attention effectively between driving and secondary tasks, but they are wrong,” said Chaudhary. “It is my hope that the information shared at the forums from various sources will help educate and reduce distracted driving.”
“Most of us are guilty of distracted driving because we naively think nothing dangerous will happen to us,” said Hwang. “When you are not paying full attention to the road in front of you, there is a highly increased chance that you will have an accident as a result of either your own actions or the actions by another you are unable to avoid.
“All that it takes is a fraction of a second for tragedy to occur,” said Hwang. “We need to take this just as seriously as drunk and buzzed driving because they can lead to the same dangerous result. We encourage everyone to keep two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road. Your phone and other distractions can wait.”
“Any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel or your attention from the task of driving presents a risk,” said Mayko of the AAA. “What most folks don’t realize is that hands-free electronics are no safer than hand-held devices despite the amount of research done on this topic.”
The most expensive new cars include a lot of safety features to protect drivers from themselves (and to protect pedestrians and other drivers who get in their way.) These include such things as “lane keep assist,” “forward collision warning,” “automatic emergency braking,” and “pedestrian detection.” Of course, new car ads also emphasize how connected the cars are to the internet.
The “automatic emergency braking” option is featured in a TV ad shows a young driver fiddling with her cell phone as she goes through a stop sign and narrowly avoids being crushed by a huge truck, saved from certain death by the automatic emergency brake.
It’s great that she was saved, but some young drivers (or their parents) may not be able to afford cars with the fancy modern safety features that can protect them from their own mistakes. So the Distracted Driver Safety Program is an initiative whose time has come.