April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – An Airman checks her phone while driving May 5, 2014. When talking on a cell phone, drivers can miss seeing up to half of what is around them, such as traffic lights, stop signs and pedestrians. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Michael Smith)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – An Airman checks her phone while driving May 5, 2014. When talking on a cell phone, drivers can miss seeing up to half of what is around them, such as traffic lights, stop signs and pedestrians. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Michael Smith)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Do you think using a hands-free device, whether it is an earpiece or a dashboard infotainment system, is the safe way to drive and talk on the phone? If so, you are not alone.

A recent National Safety Council poll shows that 80 percent of U.S. drivers believe hands-free cell phones are safer than using handheld. However, this is not true.

According to the NSC, more than 30 studies show that using hands-free systems do not provide drivers a safety benefit. Even with both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, your mind is distracted from the task of driving.

Think about it; people have been driving stick shift for decades. The issue is not about keeping two hands on the wheel, it is about keeping your mind on driving. You cannot watch TV while talking on the phone. So why drive while talking on a phone?

When talking on a cell phone, drivers can miss seeing up to half of what is around them, such as traffic lights, stop signs and pedestrians. The ringing of a phone or pinging of a text creates irresistible urges for many people to answer the call, read the message or respond.

To avoid these temptations:
- Turn off your cell phone or put it on silent before driving.
- Toss your cell phone in the trunk or glove box.
- Pre-set your navigation system and music playlists before driving.
- Schedule stops to check voicemails, emails and texts.
- Set special ring tones for important incoming calls, and pull off to a safe place to take them.
- Tell coworkers, family and friends not to call or text you when they know you are driving.
- Start all conference calls by asking if anyone is driving, and have them call back when they are in a safe location.
- Install an application on your phone that disables it while your vehicle is in motion.
- Ask a passenger to answer incoming calls and have them say that you will call them back when not driving.
- Change your voicemail greeting to tell people that you may be driving and you will call them back when you can safely do so.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released recent data that supports the claim that distracted driving continues to become more and more of a deadly epidemic in the United States and across the Globe. The top five most dangerous driving distractions are cell phone use, reaching for moving objects inside the vehicle, looking at objects or events outside the vehicle, reading and personal grooming such as applying makeup or brushing hair.

Here are some recent statistics on distracted driving:
- According to the NHTSA, 3,328 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver, and an estimated additional 421,000 became injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012.
- According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to be involved in a serious crash.
- According to the NHTSA, 11 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes under the age of 20 were reported as distracted at the time of the crash in 2011. This age group had the largest proportion of distracted drivers.

Many distractions exist that could compromise individuals' safety. In recognition of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, motorists should pay attention to the primary task of driving and offer tips to help stay aware while on the road.