The Alabama Department of Public Health started a campaign last month designed to inform people about risky behaviors that can lead to fatal crashes for teen drivers. Richard Burleson, director of the Alabama Child Death Review System, made the announcement of the program. Distracted driving, not wearing seatbelts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are the three targets of the campaign. Most Alabamians are shocked to learn that our state currently has the second highest per capita rate of teen driver fatalities in the nation.
A recent study backs up a need to push for bans on the use of cell phones and texting while driving. More than 1,400 wrecks involving drivers distracted by cell phones and other electronic devices have been reported in Alabama in the past 13 months. Those numbers, collected by the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety, are the first look into the statewide effects of distracted driving. Drivers can be distracted by anything from eating behind the wheel or arguing with a passenger to changing the radio. While the 1,466 wrecks account for a fraction of the state’s crashes, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs — which has a traffic safety program — warns that the number paints an incomplete picture.
The UAB Transportation Center has completed a year-long study examining the risks of teens driving distracted. The study put young drivers behind the wheel of a driving simulator and had them talk on the phone and text while virtual drivers slammed on their brakes, and simulated pedestrians ran into the street. Results of the study was to have been compiled by the end of August.
We must all recognize that younger drivers have grown up with cell phones and started sending and reading text messages long before they learned to drive. As a result, the youngsters mistakenly believe they can safely use hand-held devices while driving. It took a while to convince folks – both young and old – that they need to wear seatbelts. Public education and the passage of laws were able to change that perception. The same can happen relating to the issue of distracted drinking. I believe it’s critically important and hope all of our readers do too.
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