Editorial: Take the wheel, put down the phone

We’ve all seen it. You’re driving along a highway, you pass a vehicle and as you glance over, the driver has one eye on the road, the other on a hand-held device. This practice knows no age or gender limitations — and it is a problem that can lead to accidents with serious injuries or even deaths.

It’s sad to say, but we’ve all been tempted. It’s so easy. It’s just a second. The cellular phone pings, a message flashes on the screen. What could be the harm? It’s only a second. But it is that one-second distraction that could be the difference between life and death — for the person checking the phone, anyone in another car or a pedestrian.

Police will use this month is used to shed more light on this driving hazard. From April 2 to April 30, the state Department of Transportation is partnering with local police departments — including Wilton — as well as all other law enforcement across the state, as part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” campaign, a high-visibility effort to enforce distracted-driving laws, is designed to make sure all motorists keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

Jim Redeker, state Department of Transportation commissioner quoted a recent study that found that while more than 80% of drivers believed it was completely unacceptable for a motorist to text behind the wheel, over a third of those same drivers admitted to reading text messages while operating a motor vehicle themselves. “We need our citizens to know that this behavior is not only illegal but extremely dangerous,” he said.

Research conducted after the 2017 “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” campaign showed that motorists do respond to distracting driving campaigns. Before the start of the April 2017 campaign, 8.3% of drivers were observed with a phone in their hand in areas where police planned to conduct enforcement. This number fell to 6.9% after that enforcement effort had concluded.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. Teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.

Violating Connecticut’s distracted driving laws can be costly. The fine is $150 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense and $500 for third and subsequent offenses. For more information, visit www.distraction.gov.