The prevalence of cellular phones in the United States has prompted highway safety and law enforcement agencies across the country to educate motorists about driving without distractions.
Oct. 10 is “Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day,” which was designated by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The day was first observed in 2001, after statistics from 1995 to 2000 showed an average of 41,500 fatalities occurred annually due to traffic incidents.
The day was designated in an effort to alert motorists about the main causes of traffic fatalities.
A proclamation issued by Gov. Rick Scott on Sept. 28 specified that this year will be aimed at safely and correctly installing child safety devices in motor vehicles in Florida.
“Engineers make the roads. They design the vehicles on the roadways,” said Mark Van Hala, co-chairman for the National Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day. “The third component of traffic safety is the driver, so engineers are out there trying to promote traffic safety,” said Hala.
There is a bright note about recent traffic safety trends, according to a statement made by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“The number and rate of traffic fatalities in 2010 fell to the lowest levels since 1949, despite a significant increase in the number of miles Americans drove during the year,” said LaHood. “Last year’s drop in traffic fatalities is welcome news and it proves that we can make a difference.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 32,788 people died in traffic fatalities in 2010, a three percent decline compared with 33,808 in 2009.
Florida saw a 4.8 percent reduction in the number of traffic fatalities from 2,563 in 2009 to 2,444 in 2010.
According to the NHTSA, in 2009 16 percent of the total fatalities died in crashes where driver distraction was the main cause. The percentage of people involved in distracted driver fatalities has risen six percent since 2005.
Van Hala, said doing anything besides driving could be considered a distraction, but cell phone use is one of the major concerns and one of the leading causes in incidents.
“You hear a lot about multitasking these days,” said Van Hala. “Driving is not one of those multitasking activities.”
Examples of distractions listed by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles include eating, drinking, grooming, talking to passengers, adjusting the radio or GPS system, moving objects and children.
Nine states, Washington D.C and the Virgin Islands have laws banning all use of cell phones while in operation of a motor vehicle.
According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, which provides leadership and advocacy for states and territories to improve traffic safety and influences national policy, Florida has restrictions that prevent the state from enacting cellphone ban laws due to existing preemption laws. “In Florida, both state agencies and local governments can do only what statues specifically give them the authority to do,” said Marianne Trussell, chief safety officer with the Florida Department of Transportation. “At this time, there is no statute authorizing local governments to pass such laws. This is very similar to the red light running cameras issue.”
Localities tried to get around the lack of specific authority by crafting a local solution, which ended up in much controversy and several lawsuits, Trussell said.
Florida House Bill 689 was passed by the legislature in May and would have required drivers education classes to include instruction on the risks associated with the use of wireless communication devices while driving.
The bill was later vetoed by Scott.
Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day is a way for the NHSTA and the U.S. Department of Transportation to work with state and local governments, volunteers and citizens to inform the public about the importance that should be placed on attention to the road while driving.
“Texting is a death sentence,” Van Hala said.