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25 September 2011

Texting and driving don’t mix

We all do it – reply to a text on the way to a party, fix our makeup in the rear view mirror or frantically scroll through our iPod looking for the perfect song. While we’re all well versed on the effects of drinking and driving, we rarely consider the little things we do behind the wheel to be distracting, let alone dangerous.

On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), District Six, will be launching its “Put it Down” campaign to spread awareness of distracted driving across Miami-Dade and Monroe County. That same day, an outreach event will be held on the Rock from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event will include organizations such as UMPD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Pier 21, Coral Gables Police Department, AAA, BikeSafe, FHP and FDOT Traffic Management, which will be conducting demonstrations and distributing brochures.

In addition to UM, FDOT has joined forces with academic institutions including Miami-Dade Public Schools, Florida International University and  Miami Dade College to educate young drivers about the impact of what is being described as an epidemic.

“Distracted driving” is a term that includes visual, manual or cognitive distractions, meaning it incorporates anything that distracts an individual from the primary task of driving. While the term applies to activities such as eating, drinking and reading maps, texting while driving is often seen as particularly dangerous since it involves several types of distraction.

At any given moment during daylight hours, over 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a handheld cell phone, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.

“When people are listening to a cell phone conversation, they’re slower to respond to things they’re looking at,” said Steven Yantis, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University in a TIME article. “It requires you to select one thing at the cost of being less able to respond to other things.”

Statistics from 2009 have revealed the impact of distracted driving. Five thousand drivers were killed, and more than 448,000 people were injured in incidents reported to have involved distracted driving, according to a press release from UM Media.

These incidents equate to roughly one in five of all injury accidents on the roads that year. In addition, it was discovered that the greatest proportion of distracted drivers were under 20 years old.

“With advancements in technology and the dependence on mobile phones and other handheld devices, it is more important than ever that drivers understand the risks involved in distracted driving,” District 6 Secretary Gus Pego said. “When you’re behind the wheel, your focus should be on the road and getting where you need to be safely.”
FDOT’s campaign is specifically targeted at the 16- to 24-year-old age bracket, a range that encompasses a majority of UM’s student population.

“Sometimes I’ll text at a stoplight, but I don’t really like to,” sophomore Erin Purdy said. “ You wouldn’t write a letter while driving. Adjusting the radio is OK, but not texting.”
For more information on the FDOT event, visit distraction.gov.