An appalling statistic shows deaths due to distracted driving in Minnesota are rapidly gaining on the number of deaths due to drunken driving. The recent charges brought against a 25-year-old Prior Lake woman should give us all pause. She is accused of distracted driving when her vehicle struck and killed a 40-year-old bicyclist in Glencoe last April.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, in 2013 there were 387 fatalities on Minnesota roadways. Of those, 81 were considered to be drunk-driving related, while 68 of them were related to distracted driving.
Annual fatalities in Minnesota have shown decreases compared to years ago. Stricter enforcement of drinking-while-driving laws and the increasing use of seat belts have done wonders in that regard. It took years and years of public education to make those strides in safety.
Let us hope it doesn’t take years and years for people finally to get the message that distracted driving kills just as surely as drunken driving kills. Distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one of four crashes, notes the Minnesota DPS.
What is most tragic is almost all of the those roadway fatalities could easily have been prevented simply by not driving drunk, by not driving distracted and by not speeding. Seventy-six of the fatalities in 2013 were speed-related. Will we never learn?
It should also be noted in 2013, there were 30,653 people injured in roadway accidents, and 1,216 of those were severe and life-altering. Imagine that kind of long-term suffering just because of drunken, distracted or speeding drivers? It’s an absolute disgrace. Those accidents, by the way, were mostly car and truck accidents, but they also included motorcyclists, pedestrians, bicyclists, ATVs, farm vehicles and snowmobiles.
The DPS offers tips to avoid distracted or inattentive driving:
- Place cell phones and other electronic communication devices out of reach in the vehicle or ask a passenger, if possible, to handle calls and text messages.
- Adjust all dials before driving, including pre-programming radio stations.
- Always pull over to send or get messages.
- Avoid eating while driving, especially messy foods that can spill and distract.
- Teach children the importance of minding and sitting still while a vehicle is in motion since unruly or excitable children can often cause dangerous distractions.
- If making or receiving a call, ask the person if he or she is driving. If so, kindly ask the driver to call back at a safer time.
The DPS reminds people it is illegal to drive while reading, sending text messages or emails or accessing wireless devices when a vehicle is in motion or when a vehicle is stopped at traffic lights; it’s illegal for school-bus drivers to use cell phones on the job; and it’s illegal for drivers to use cell phones during their permit and provisional-license stages.
Unfortunately, laws are only as good as long as they are heeded. Speeding and drunken driving are illegal, too, and yet some people just never learn.
In the long run, the main preventive tactic is for all people now to let one another know such dangerous driving behavior is not acceptable. The shame factor has to be invoked and people have to tell loved ones, friends and strangers in no uncertain terms to concentrate completely on the road and on driving when that vehicle is in motion.
If someone in a car in which you are a passenger starts texting or doing other distractive behaviors, kindly but firmly ask that person to stop it immediately, that they are jeopardizing your life as well as theirs, not to mention other people (motorists and pedestrians) on roadways. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, and friends should not let friends drive distracted either. Let’s all put a stop to it, once and for all.