WARREN, Ohio (WYTV) – April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol has a message it wants to pass along to drivers.
To show how busy they are patrolling the roads for distracted drivers, Highway Patrol in Trumbull County invited First News for a ride-along.
“I think that distracted driving absolutely contributes to our overall crash picture,” said Lieutenant Brian Holt. “Whether we give someone a warning or we give someone a traffic citation, the idea is to change their behavior.”
In a digital society, almost everyone has a smart phone and when a notification goes off, it’s tempting to read it.
Highway Patrol says sending or receiving a text message behind the wheel takes your eyes off the road for about five seconds. If your speed is 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field.
“Taking your eyes off the road at all is dangerous because you never know what can happen,” he said. “A lot can happen in a 100 yard period of time.”
For Ohio drivers under 18, texting and driving is a primary violation. For everyone else, it’s illegal as a secondary offense but troopers need to see a primary violation first.
“We have to observe them using their phone, which is difficult to do,” Holt said. “We have a lot of traffic crashes. There’s times we believe it’s a result of distracted driving but unless we see the crash happen and watch it unfold… A lot of times we can’t prove that the person was actually distracted while they were driving.”
For Highway Patrol troopers, lane violations are a big indicator of distracted driving.
“The most common violation we see when people are using their cell phones are lane violations,” he said. “Whether they’re crossing the center line…not driving in their marked lanes, those are the things that most commonly occur when people are using their phones.”
Texting plays a large role in distracted driving but changing the radio, eating food and even applying makeup can also take your eyes off the road. Troopers can’t stress enough how serious those seconds can be.
“Distracted driving can be just as dangerous as impaired driving because when people take their eyes off the road they’re committing lane violations, they’re driving off the roadway, they’re not able to stop for cars in front of them,” Holt said.
Distractions can be visual, manual or cognitive. Visual distractions include anything that makes a driver take their eyes off the road. Manual distractions occur when a driver takes their hands off the wheel, and cognitive distractions is anything that takes their mind off driving. Texting is an example of all three types of distractions.
“There’s nothing that is that critical in a text message that you need to tend to until the vehicle is in a safe location and you’re not driving the vehicle.”
From 2013 to 2015, the Highway Patrol issued a number of distracted driving violations for texting and using electronics. Columbiana County had eight, Trumbull County had 23 and Mahoning County had 61.
In 2015, distracted driving caused more than 13,000 crashes in Ohio; 39 of those accidents were fatal with a total of 43 deaths.