Distracted Driving Now a Public Health Concern

FREMONT – Three Rivers Public Health Department serves the health and well-being of the Dodge, Washington and Saunders County area. We count on them for things like flu shots and disease outbreak control. The latest epidemic they’re taking on? Distracted driving.

Distracted driving is any activity takes your attention off the road. The CDC breaks the problem into three categories:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving

Texting is the perfect storm of all three categories: you take one hand (or both) off the wheel to reach for your phone. You take your eyes off the road to look at your screen. You take your mind off of driving to read or compose a new text.¬†Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for, at least, a full 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

So why is this a public health issue? In 2015, around 3,500 people were killed as the result of distracted driving, accounting for 10% of all motor vehicle deaths that year. 391,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents. Despite the passage of laws that make texting and driving a crime, total deaths over the last five years have increased – going up every year.

“It is a public health issue,” according to Carmen Dickes at Three Rivers, “because it does cause serious injury. We want to make a focus on it and make sure we’re eliminating distracted driving as much as we can.”

Carmen suggests people silence their phones or turn them off entirely when they’re driving. “If a call does come in and you have a passenger, have your passenger answer the phone and explain that you’re driving and can’t talk or text. If it’s an absolute emergency, safely pull over to the side and return that call or text.”