RICHMOND—April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and estimates show that U.S. roadways are more dangerous than ever.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s annual campaign encourages drivers to put down their phones, pay attention and take responsibility for the daily choices they make on the road.
“Distracted driving of any kind increases the risk of accidents for the driver, passengers and fellow motorists,” said David Tenembaum, Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. actuarial manager and Drive Smart Virginia board member.
Anytime a driver diverts their attention from the road, they are distracted. This includes texting, messaging, taking selfies, adjusting the radio, setting navigation, applying makeup and eating or drinking, according to the NHTSA.
Texting is considered the most dangerous type of distracted driving because it combines visual, manual and cognitive distractions.
At 55 mph, sending or reading a text is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the past decade, distracted driving has become commonplace on U.S. roadways, endangering more passengers, drivers and pedestrians each year. The CDC estimates that nine people in the U.S. are killed every day in crashes that involve a distracted driver.
A 2021 NHTSA observational survey found that the rate of drivers manipulating hand-held devices more than doubled from 1.3% in 2011 to 2.8% in 2020.
There were 3,142 deaths linked to distracted driving in 2020. More than 8% of fatal crashes, 13% of injury crashes and 13% of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes involved a distracted driver, according to NHTSA.
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported 20,918 distracted driver-involved crashes in 2021—an 11.2% increase from 2020.
“A devastating crash can happen in an instant,” Tenembaum said. “It’s important for drivers to pay close attention to the road and their surroundings to avoid these unfortunate accidents.”
If drivers need to send or receive a text, they should pull over to a safe location and park the car first, appoint a passenger as a designated texter, or keep their phones in the trunk if they can’t resist the temptation.