Ramping up efforts against deadly distracted driving

Texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving are responsible for more than 1 million crashes, 400,000 injuries, and 3,000 deaths in the U.S. each year—and those numbers are likely to increase with the proliferation of in-car infotainment systems. Given the dangers, Jay Winsten of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health urges that efforts be strengthened to keep drivers from taking their eyes off the road.

Winsten, Frank Stanton Director of the Center for Health Communication at Harvard Chan, wrote an article in the April 1, 2015 Huffington Post marking the beginning of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. He also moderated a panel on the topic the same day at the Massachusetts State House. Citing research on the dangers of distracted driving, he wrote in the Post that the risk of causing a crash or near-crash spikes threefold when drivers take their eyes off the road for longer than 2 seconds to interact with a digital device. But the average text message takes 4.6 seconds to type and send. “When traveling at 55 miles per hour, 4.6 seconds is equivalent to driving the full length of a football field while blindfolded,” Winsten wrote.

Possible ways to toughen distracted driving laws include instituting stiff penalties for the practice in school zones, work zones, or police road-stops, Winsten wrote. He noted that driving after drinking was a widely accepted practice in the 1980s, but that aggressive advocacy efforts by groups like MADD, enactment of tough state laws, and media campaigns helped turn the tide, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. “A comparable success can assuredly be achieved against distracted driving,” he wrote.

Read the Huffington Post article by Jay Winsten: Distracted, Bloody Fool!

Read about Winsten’s Mass. State House appearance on April 1 in a Lowell Sun article: Atkins dials up support for hands-free cellphone use

Learn more

Reducing distracted driving requires a dose of creativity (Harvard Chan news)

Preventing Deadly Distracted Driving (Forum webcast)