April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, so the Auto Club of Southern California, California Highway Patrol and local police departments are reminding drivers to focus on the road rather than on their smartphones. Many dangerous driving behaviors increased during the pandemic, such as speeding, red light running, not wearing seatbelts, impaired driving and distracted driving, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Researchers found that higher-risk drivers accounted for a greater share of drivers during the pandemic than before it, and while only a small percentage of drivers increased their driving due to the pandemic, those who did were younger and disproportionately male – a statistically riskier driver group than the average population.
“We know many people are planning to travel by automobile this spring and summer, despite the higher gas prices,” said Auto Club Corporate Communications Manager Doug Shupe. “As we emerge from the pandemic and people plan for road trips, the Auto Club and law enforcement remind everyone about the dangers of being distracted while behind the wheel. We don’t want tragic and preventable crashes to increase as people return to the road for vacations and to reconnect with friends and family.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,138 people died in distracted-related crashes in the U.S. in 2020, accounting for 8.1% of all roadway fatalities. That’s an average of 9 people killed each day in crashes that are totally preventable. Additionally, another 400,000 people are injured each year in distracted-related crashes. In California alone, 105 people died in distraction-affected crashes in 2020 and 9,262 were seriously injured. However, the true numbers of deaths and injuries are likely much higher because distracted driving is often underreported or difficult to determine as the cause of a crash.
According to California’s Office of Traffic Safety:
- 21% of distracted driving related fatalities and serious injuries are also due to unsafe speed
- 20- to 24-year-olds make up the greatest number of distracted driving-related fatalities and serious injuries
Distracted driving is especially dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. Non-drivers account for nearly one in five distracted driving deaths. Nationally in 2020, there were 480 pedestrians, 83 bicyclists and 14 other non-occupants killed in crashes that involved a driver who was reported to be distracted. It is unknown how many of these other pedestrians, cyclists and other non-occupants were also distracted at the time.
According to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey in 2021, more than half of drivers (51%) admitted they text and/or email on their phone while alone in the vehicle. Changing the social norm about distracted driving is critical for reducing and ultimately eliminating crashes, deaths and injuries as a result of distracted driving. That’s the goal of the Auto Club’s campaign, “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.” The campaign aims to increase the social stigma of using a smartphone behind the wheel like the stigma that exists with impaired driving.
Emani Lawrence, who lost her grandmother Linda Doyle to a distracted driver in 2008, was hit herself by a food delivery driver who claimed to be distracted looking at a delivery app on a phone earlier this year. Lawrence’s crash happened in San Diego two weeks before she sat for the California bar exam. The crash totaled her car, sent her to the hospital with head injuries and left her unable to study for a week following the incident. But she realizes she was more fortunate than her grandmother.
“My grandmother’s death really affected me because I was very young and looked at my grandmother as a second mother,” said Lawrence. “We were very close and made so many memories together, so losing her was like losing one of the biggest parts of me. I like to think she is with me in everything I do and that she would be proud of the woman I am today.”
The Auto Club encourages all Southern Californians to eliminate distracted driving by following these tips:
- Put it away. Place your mobile device out of sight to prevent temptation.
- Know where you’re going. If using a navigation system, program the destination before driving.
- Pull over. If you have to call or text while on the road, pull off the road safely and stop first.
- Ask passengers for help. If riding with someone, seek their help to navigate, make a call or send a message.
- Be a good passenger. Speak out if the driver of your vehicle is distracted.
- Don’t be a distraction. Avoid calling or texting others when you know they are driving.
- Everyone should prevent being intexticated. Just as drivers need to pay attention, so do pedestrians and bicyclists. Never call, text or play games while walking or cycling.
For more information about the Auto Club’s “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated,” visit aaa.com/dontdrivedistracted to read real stories of lives impacted by distracted driving, watch PSAs, and view a new distracted driving documentary called “Sidetracked.”