Distracted driving has taken many lives and is only getting more hazardous annually, especially for first responders and construction workers who are more likely to get hit since parts of their careers are on or near the roadside.
Some of the top driving disruptions include cellphone use; outside persons, objects or events; other occupants in the vehicle; being lost in thought; using a device brought into the vehicle; eating or drinking; adjusting audio or climate controls; using devices or controls to operate the vehicle; moving objects; and smoking- or drug-related acts.
Cities and states are addressing this dangerous behavior with programs to avoid these distractions and to be safer on the roads. In 2018, there was a 60% increase — 40 deaths — from 2017 of first responders being killed on the roadside. Last May, the National Safety Council noted 71% of drivers passing by emergency workers were texting and taking photos, which is nearly triple the normal average of 24%, with 60% admitting to posting these photos on social media. Two-thirds email about what they are driving by — wrecks, stopped speeders, etc. So far, of the 21 deaths this year, 10 were police officers. Fourteen officers were hit and killed in all of 2018.
One officer made the observation that all motorists believe that they’re a better driver and less distracted than other drivers. While all states have a “move over” law requiring drivers to enable first responders room to function, police say probably only 50% actually do it. Once the sirens and flashing lights go on, drivers immediately change their behavior, said one police officer.
According to the National Safety Council, the cause for most wrecks is the use of cellphones, especially where texting was concerned. It’s illegal in most states, including Illinois and Indiana, and the AAA notes texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds. At 55 mph, this means 120 yards without glancing at the road. AAA also calculated that distracted driving accounts for more than 4,000 crashes a day in the U.S.
Years ago, one cop happened to pull up to the stoplight, and as he glanced over at the other car across from him, he noticed the teen driver was texting. The light changed and the teenager within a couple of minutes smashed into another car. The police officer was right there and took care of the wreck. The new driver was hysterical but otherwise fine; however, she had wrecked her mother’s brand-new car.
The next day, the mother showed up at the police station and asked to speak to the officer who had witnessed the wreck.
“Officer, I wanted to thank you again for handling my daughter’s accident, and I have a question to ask of you,” said the mother. “Can you tell me if my daughter was texting when the accident occurred?”
“Yes, ma’am, she was. I was next to her at the stoplight when I first noticed her texting,” the officer said, upon which the furious mother burst into profanity, saying the daughter had sworn up and down she was not texting and that she was going to get grounded for a month, with her cellphone being taken away.
Lt. Shad E. Caplinger, post commander for the Lancaster post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Public Safety, has been a victim of a drunk driver while sitting in his car processing another case. Though he wasn’t injured he hopes the department’s video — “Slow Down, Move Over” — will cause a change in viewers’ driving habits. The close-captioned PSA video was a dual effort of the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
The PSA is unique as it shows first responders sharing their fears of being struck by a vehicle. Each survivor spoke from the heart, making his or her case personal and poignant.
Asked whether his own accident was the catalyst for starting the PSA for Ohio’s special campaign, Caplinger’s reply was not exactly — with a caveat.
“I was struck by an impaired driver in August 2005, but to answer your question specifically, no, that is not my full motivation,” said Caplinger. “I feel God has blessed me with a great opportunity to be an Ohio State Trooper. I want to keep persons safe and prevent them from getting hurt in a crash.”
Caplinger was not sure how many of his department had been struck on emergency runs.
“I know recently we have had troopers hit and injured due to on-duty crashes,” said Caplinger, adding the department was self-insured by the state of Ohio. Construction workers and roadside workers are covered by their specific company with which they are employed.
“Some of the key initiatives have been launched to raise awareness include ‘Move Over, Slow Down,’ ‘Preventing Texting and Driving,’ ‘Distracted Driving,’ ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ and ‘Click it or Ticket.’ (These) are NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) campaigns we participate with,” said Caplinger.
According to Caplinger, there have been many safe years in Ohio, which recorded its the seven safest years statistically.
ResponderSafety.com covers actual distracted driving incidents from all over the country, allowing visitors to filter results to year, month, state/province and the specific organization — fire, police, department of transportation, etc. — affected by each incident. For example, Wyoming had a crash that injured four Wamsutter firefighters along I-80; Kershaw S.C., reported a deputy being struck by a SUV at a school crossing; and Texas listed a drunk driver hitting a big rig on I-10 in addition to a second drunk driver hitting a fire truck.
To reduce these incidents, programs need to be targeted to adults, teens and even grade-school children, who will hopefully grow up to be more responsible drivers.
Sgt. Tiffany L. Meeks, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Office of the Superintendent, Public Affairs Unit, noted, “Yes, the patrol is dedicated to improving the quality of life for Ohio’s youth.”
She added, “In fact, troopers in partnership with local law enforcement and the Ohio National Guard have completed more than 1,300 5MFL (Five Minutes for Life) speech details — impacting 245,000 students across the state of Ohio. Additionally, troopers work with local partners on mock crashes and other educational opportunities to ensure students are making good decisions. The patrol also partners with the American Legion Buckeye Girls and Boys State and the Bigs in Blue (through) Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.”
Meeks shared in detail more initiatives to combat distracted driving.
“One is T.R.I.A.D., which stands for target, reckless, impaired, aggressive and distracted driving — from the ground and air — allowing troopers to safely observe and target dangerous driving behavior,” said Meeks.
“We also partnered with the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2018 to create the first distracted driving corridor. Additionally, the patrol also partnered with Maria’s Message at the 2009 Ohio State Fair by utilizing its driving simulator and providing a realistic experience in a virtual environment to bring awareness on the dangers of being distracted.”
What if another state wanted to take up proposals to start its own distracted driving programs?
“Each state operates in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and within their own initiatives and laws,” said Meeks. “However, the Ohio State Highway Patrol has partnered with numerous state and local partners on campaigns such as the 6 State Trooper Project focusing on initiatives such as ‘Move Over’ and distracted driving.”
Meeks referenced a crash whereby the trooper was changing a tire on a disabled vehicle on the Ohio Turnpike when a U-Haul truck went off the roadway striking a cruiser. The U-Haul did not stop at the crash scene but was located a short time later.
Ohio’s move over law became effective in 2004 and continues to be a priority for the Ohio State Highway Patrol in efforts to keep all first responders safe. Numerous campaigns have been implemented to include PSAs for education and awareness, high visibility enforcement and the 6-State Trooper Project, for which it partners with state and local law enforcement.
And there you have it — ambitious and working efforts to curb distracted driving that bring home the message: “In a split second, you could ruin your future, injure or kill others and tear a hole in the heart of everyone you love.”