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Distracted driving may be the defining safety issue of our time

There are a lot of safety innovations and safety laws that we now take for granted. They are so commonplace, in fact, that it is hard to imagine a time when they did not exist or were not considered common practice. As just one example, consider seat belts.

Seat belts only became standard issue in automobiles in the 1960s, and it wasn’t until 1968 that Congress mandated them in all new vehicles. Thanks to a combination of laws, safety campaigns and plain common sense, nearly 90 percent of people in the U.S. now wear seat belts while in the car. It is estimated that the use of these devices (either voluntary or compulsory) has saved tens of thousands of lives. Yet there are many who believe that this progress could be undone by another emerging road hazard: distracted driving.

By some estimates, distracted driving is responsible for 350,000 crashes each year. And according to the government website distraction.gov, 3,328 people were killed in distracted driving crashes on U.S. roads in 2012. At least 18 percent of distraction-related fatalities involved the use of a cellphone.

Texting, surfing the web, talking on a handheld phone and other driving distractions may be as dangerous as impaired driving or failing to wear a seat belt. Unlike these other hazards, however, distracted driving could actually increase with the next generation rather than decrease. Campaigns to encourage seat belt use and discourage drunk driving seemingly become more effective over time because people have these messages reinforced from the time they are very young.

But kids now have such early and frequent access to cellphones, tablets and other electronic devices that they have a hard time putting them down when it’s time to start driving. For this and many other reasons, parents have a big role to play in their teenagers’ driving habits.

As with drunk driving and failure to wear a seat belt, distracted driving will someday be widely considered unacceptable behavior. But this will only happen if we all work to send that message through our words and actions.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Is Distracted Driving Undoing The Seat Belt?” Bill Bell, Nov. 11, 2013

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