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Driving while impaired

Humans make many mistakes as drivers even when they are alert and attentive.  When they are impaired, however, mayhem regularly ensues.

And there’s a wide array of impairment-induced influences.  The commonly heard expression, “Driving while intoxicated,” is most associated with alcoholic beverages, but such intoxication also covers drugs, whether legal, illegal or prescribed.  Additionally, we are subject to mental “intoxication” borne of distraction or drowsiness.  Maybe the best catch-all terminology is “driving while impaired,” which covers more forms of such driver shortcomings to be avoided.

DUI, or “driving under influence” is an official phrase used by law enforcement in citing drivers for the infraction of being drunk or drugged while operating a motor vehicle.  While not officially, DUI could also be applied to those who take the wheel while drowsy or distracted.

Of the four Ds:  drunk, drugged, drowsy and distracted, distracted is getting the most attention of late.  In fact, April has been designated National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.  The call to awareness is worthy, given statistics.  Research and traffic experts indicate that drivers are three times more likely to have a wreck when talking on a cell phone (handheld or hands-free), and 23 times more likely to crash when entering information into an electronic device.

Another reality right here in Washington is that motor vehicle accidents attributed to driver distraction rose by 32 percent from 2014 to 2015.  Unfortunately, that upward trend has continued since then.  The main culprit remains the cell phone, since 71 percent of drivers observed by law enforcement officers to be distracted behind the wheel were using it.

As a result, lawmakers across the country are proposing bills to expand the definition of illegal phone use while driving, believing that increasing fines and enforcement will save lives.

Under the “umbrella” of Washington’s Target Zero initiative, aiming to reduce traffic fatalities on state roadways to zero by the year 2030, nearly 150 law enforcement agencies added extra patrols April 3-16 to specifically identify and cite drivers distracted by cell phone use while behind the wheel.

Similar campaigns are under way in jurisdictions nationwide.  The National Safety Council even has a pledge for drivers to sign at their Website, nsc.org.  There, on behalf of one’s children, parents or spouse, for example, drivers can fill out and submit a pledge to be an attentive driver.  The pledge promises to not drive distracted in any way, including:  engaging in a phone conversation whether handheld, hands-free or Bluetooth, texting or sending Snapchats, updating social media, checking or sending emails, taking selfies or videos, inputting GPS destinations while the vehicle is in motion, and calling or messaging someone else when it is known they are driving.

Enforcement is only one aspect of the necessary two-pronged approach to reduce distracted, drunk, drugged and drowsy drivers.  Awareness through education is a second emphasis that can hopefully change drivers’ bad habits.

Testimonial pleas to ignore phones while driving from young accident victims who have survived but become disabled can be found on YouTube.  And tragically, many parents of those who have lost their lives driving while using phones make the same plea in honor of their loved one in the hope to save another.

Safety and health advocacy organizations, like Governors Highway Safety Association, National Sleep Foundation, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, and Students Against Destructive Decisions are working to end impaired driving.   

Let’s all join in to curb the epidemic. 

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.

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