Health Department

Safe Holiday Traveling

Safe Holiday Traveling
By Larry D. Jones, MPH

November 20, 2012

This holiday season thousands of us will load into the family vehicle and hit the pavement while en route to our relatives for Thanksgiving Dinner. But before you get behind the wheel, I have a few facts to share with you. Each day, more than 15 people are killed and more than 1,200 people are injured in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver. Even more alarming, among those killed or injured in these crashes, nearly 1,000 deaths and 24,000 injuries included cell phone use as the major distraction.

When we think of distracted driving we automatically think of cell phone usage, but it’s more than just cell phones. There are three main types of distracted driving which include visual, manual and cognitive distractions. Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety. These types of distractions include:

• Texting
• Using a cell phone or smartphone
• Eating and drinking
• Talking to passengers
• Grooming
• Reading, including maps
• Using a navigation system
• Watching a video
• Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

While any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction for the driver. Sending or receiving just one text message will take a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving 55 mph down the length of an entire football field, blind. If that isn’t startling enough, driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%.

Texting has become a phenomenon in its own; in the month of June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the US, up nearly 50% from June 2009. While texting is becoming more and more popular among most age groups, it is by far most prevalent in our teenagers. A staggering 40% of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger.

In response to this both national and local government are taking actions. In 2009, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood launched a national anti-distracted driving campaign to combat the growing trend of dangerous distracted driving behavior in America. Locally, it is illegal in the state of Missouri for any driver under the age of 21 to be texting while behind the wheel. Kansas has taken it a step further and made texting while driving illegal for EVERYONE, and banned the use of cell phones (handheld and hands-free) to novice drivers.

The fight to end distracted driving starts with you. Make the commitment to drive phone-free today. By making this commitment you are protecting the lives of family and friends, committing to speaking up when the driver of your car is distracted and encouraging others to drive phone and distraction free. For more information and to take the pledge to drive distraction-free, visit

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