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Monday, June 17, 2024

Tips to stay safe: Summer traffic surge puts focus on distracted driving ahead of Memorial Day

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As Indiana enters its summer months and Memorial Day approaches, increased road traffic and bicyclists heighten the risk of accidents, bringing distracted driving to the forefront for drivers across the state.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2022 marked the deadliest year on record for cyclists, with distracted driving claiming 3,308 lives.

James Bryan, traffic safety director at the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI), highlights four main behaviors that contribute to nearly every crash: speeding, lack of seat belt use, impaired driving and distracted driving.

“If you look back at any serious crash, you’re going to find one or, in many cases, two, three or four of those types of driver behaviors,” Bryan said.

The former attorney emphasized the importance of undistracted driving.

“Driving is a responsibility, and it takes our full attention,” he said.

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, with texting being the most alarming distraction reported by the NHTSA.

A new campaign, launched last month by the agency, raises awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. The newly rebranded Put the Phone Away or Pay campaign reminds drivers of the deadly dangers and the legal consequences — including fines — of distracted driving.

As distracted driving remains a concern, awareness can help alert drivers to the severe consequences of even a momentary lapse in attention.

“If you’re driving at 55 mph and your eyes are off the road for even just four to five seconds, you’ve traveled the length of a football field,” Bryan said.

Based on information from the agency, people who are walking, cycling or otherwise outside a vehicle are especially vulnerable to being in danger from distracted drivers.

“When you throw in texting and other forms of distractions, the inevitability of these crashes come from driver inattention,” Bryan said.

Indiana had seen a worrying trend in road fatalities from 2020 to 2022, with each year showing an increase.

However, Bryan said 2023 brought “positive change,” as fatal crashes decreased.

“Another part Indiana is looking at is a baseline of 2020 into 2023,” he said. “The good news is in 2023, Indiana broke that pattern.”

Bryan noted as of early 2024, fatalities have dropped by approximately 11% compared to 2023 and nearly 20% compared to the same period in 2022.

“The very good news for Indiana is fatal crashes are being reduced in our state,” he said. “That has also corresponded with reductions in serious bodily injuries.”

Although the decline in fatalities and injuries cannot be attributed to a single factor, Bryan noted reasons he believes paved the road for change.

“In the past year, there has been a significant effort in law enforcement, driver’s education and increased media coverage.”

Along with distracted driving, seat belt use is another aspect to consider when avoiding fatalities or serious bodily injury.

With Memorial Day set to kick off this weekend, Indiana has launched its Click it or Ticket campaign from May 20 through June 2.

During the enforcement period, officers will be out in full force making sure drivers and passengers are buckled up.

“The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is ‘unofficially’ the 100 most dangerous days of driving,” Bryan said. “The seriousness of some of these accidents could be avoided altogether just by drivers’ wearing a seatbelt.”

Bryan said fatalities span various age groups, but seat belt usage statistics reveal that young males aged 16 to 25 are less likely to buckle up.

“In Indiana, roughly 94% of Hoosiers use their seatbelt regularly,” he said. “The 6% that don’t are primarily young males.”

As per a report from the NHTSA, seat belt use in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017.

Photo provided by Indiana Criminal Justice Institute

Below are some safety tips provided by Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

Safety Tips for Drivers:

– Be vigilant for bicyclists and avoid driving distracted or impaired. Bicyclists lack the protections that vehicles offer.

– Slow down when you see a bicyclist. Bicyclists are often killed by drivers who strike them with the front of their vehicles, usually at high speeds. The higher the speed, the greater the likelihood of serious injury or death for the bicyclist.

Safety Tips for Bicyclists:

– Make yourself visible. Equip your bike with reflectors and lights, and wear retroreflective and bright clothing.

– Always wear a helmet. Just as seat belts save lives in motor vehicle crashes, bicycle helmets save lives.

– Ride together when possible. The “Safety in Numbers” concept suggests that drivers are more cautious and behave more safely when they see groups of cyclists. With spring in full bloom and the summer months approaching, more cyclists on the roads, the ICJI urges everyone to prioritize safety and remain aware of the risks associated with distracted driving. More than 1,100 cyclists were killed by motor vehicle operators in recent years, the highest number since record-keeping began in 1975.

Safety Tips for Seat Belts:

– Buckling up helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle, whereas not buckling up can result in being totally ejected from the vehicle in a crash, which is almost always deadly.

– Airbags are not enough to protect you; in fact, the force of an airbag can seriously injure or even kill you if you’re not buckled up.

– Improperly wearing a seat belt, such as putting the strap below your arm, puts you and your children at risk in a crash.

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