Alyssa Sutton

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, the first to take place since Oregon’s distracted driving law went into effect Oct. 1, 2017.

The awareness month is a united effort to recognize and eliminate preventable deaths due to distracted driving.

Distracted driving is described as “any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system –– anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The latest national statistics –– gathered by NHTSA –– show that motor vehicle fatalities are up 6 percent from 2015. More than 40,000 people were killed on the nation’s roadways last year, including 3,477 individuals who were killed in accidents tied to distracted drivers. Last year, 391,000 injuries occurred in
accidents involving distracted drivers, and an estimated 542,000
drivers had cell phones to their ears while driving during daylight hours.

Research in 2015 showed that even those who are not behind a wheel have been involved in crashes caused by distracted drivers. Nationally, 551 pedestrians and bicyclists were also killed in distracted driving crashes.

NHTSA reported in the same research that about 9 percent of all drivers ages 15-19 involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the accidents. The organization concluded that handheld cell phone use while driving is the highest among those aged 16-24.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety –– a nonprofit charitable organization based in Washington, D.C., that researches and educates on traffic safety –– reported that 2016 was the deadliest year for vehicle accidents in a decade, while distracted driving continues to be a leading contributor. In June 2017, the AAA Foundation reported that new teen drivers were three times as likely as adults to be involved in deadly crashes, and that fatal teen crashes are on the rise, increasing more than 10 percent between 2015 and 2016.

However, in October 2017, NHTSA released 2016 data showing a 2.2 percent decrease in distracted driving fatalities overall.

In Oregon, between 2012 and 2016, distracted drivers caused a little more than 10,000 crashes –– roughly 2.5 percent of the nation’s distracted driving crashes –– resulting in 70 fatalities and 16,503 injuries. In the same time frame, there were 1,040 crashes involving a driver who was reported to have been using a cell phone at the time of the crash, resulting in 19 fatalities and 4,497 injuries.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer