Drop that cellphone and put your hands up!

Asian man sitting in car with mobile phone in hand texting while drivingWhat is distracted driving? If you weren’t juggling that phone, and also holding that hot cup of coffee, while sitting behind the wheel, the answer would come to mind immediately. Here’s a clue: Anything that draws your attention away from safely operating a vehicle falls under law enforcement’s definition of distracted driving.

Here’s a quick rundown on the most common culprits: Texting, phone conversations, consuming food or a beverage, conversations with passengers, personal grooming, reading, using a GPS navigational system, watching a video, arguing with a passenger, and adjusting a radio, CD player, iPod or other musical device. Whoa! That’s a real laundry list of dangerous behaviors, for sure!

We Americans love both our cars and all those other amazing electronic gadgets, yet distracted driving is far from harmless. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Administration estimates it contributes to 16 percent of all fatal crashes, resulting in 5,000 deaths and 448,000 injuries, each year.

Cell phone conversations may distract drivers to such a degree that police will suspect an inebriated driver is behind the wheel. With some surveys indicating that on any given day more than 600,000 drivers are holding a cell phone to their ear, the scope of the problem is titanic. According to surveys, 25 percent of drivers in the U.S. reported they “regularly or fairly often” talk on their cell phones while driving.

The numbers are even more shocking, when it comes to teens and young adults. Seventy-five percent of U.S. drivers ages 18 to 29 reported they talked on their cell phone while driving at least once in the past 30 days, with nearly 40 percent reporting doing so on a regular basis.

Many drivers dismiss these dangers. In actuality, those who send or receive text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision.

Fifty-two percent of drivers in the U.S. age 18 to 29 reported texting, or e-mailing while driving, at least once in the last 30 days.

Still think it’s harmless to text and talk on your cell phone while driving? Consider this: Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At a speed of 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field essentially while blind to other drivers and pedestrians.

Save that phone conversation or text message for later, or you may not have a “later.” Hopefully that sobering thought will help you resist the allure of the smartphone, while behind the wheel.

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