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ASSE: Don't Let Driver Distraction Turn to Destruction

The American Society of Safety Engineers offers suggestions for safe travel on nation's roads over long holiday weekend.

Millions of Americans will take to the roads this weekend, traveling to the homes of family and friends to spend Thanksgiving. Do not let what should be a joyous occasion turn to tragedy.

The AAA has projected that 30 million people will travel this holiday weekend by automobile to and from their destinations. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is urging drivers to prevent tragedy on our roads by putting safety first and to avoid all driver distractions.

"We are reminding all drivers that they are behind the wheel of a large machine, that they don't control weather or road conditions or, for that matter, the behavior of other drivers," ASSE President Eddie Greer says. "What they can control is their own safe driving habits by taking more responsibility for utilizing safe driving techniques and being cognizant of the many driving hazards."

Greer notes that ASSE is concerned with "the ongoing tragedy that occurs on our roadways, resulting in the annual deaths of more than 40,000 people, along with injuries to hundreds of thousands more." In addition, traffic crashes are the No. 1 cause of on-the-job deaths, according to the Department of Labor. "These tragedies can be prevented by avoiding driver distractions such as inappropriate use of electronic devices while driving," Greer adds.

To address the issue of the growing number of driver distractions, including the increased use of electronic devices, the ASSE board of directors recently approved a position statement titled "The Use of Electronic Devices in Motor Vehicles and Safe Driving Practices." In approving the policy position, ASSE recognized that legislative and regulatory initiatives have been successful in improving safety on the nation's roadways, such as increasing seat belt and child safety seat use.

As for the significant debate regarding the use of electronic devices while operating a vehicle, specifically cellular phones, ASSE agrees that the inappropriate use of an electronic device can have catastrophic consequences.

As the debate on cell phone use in vehicles has resulted in legislation such as the new law that went into effect in New York state Nov. 1 that requires motorists to use a hands-free system, ASSE recommends that all drivers be aware of the hazards associated with such behaviors.

ASSE questions, however, whether legislative and regulatory bodies at the local, state and national levels should promulgate rules specifically aimed at the use of electronic devices by a driver in a moving vehicle when national, state and local governmental agencies have statutes and regulations limiting the behaviors of drivers on roadways already on the books. ASSE suggests examining and rewriting the existing laws, where appropriate, to give government officials more guidance as to what constitutes a hazardous act created by inappropriate actions, which may include the use of electronic devices such as cellular phones, commonplace in today's world of technology and instant communications.

In addition to drivers following the rules of the road, ASSE also recommends that the private sector take more responsibility for promoting safe driving techniques that include:

  • Increasing public outreach to reinforce to the public that a driver's first responsibility is the safe operation of a vehicle. This includes school-based driver education, which has been drastically reduced the past few years.
  • Evaluation of employers practices; creation and enforcement of written guidelines addressing employee use of electronic devices while driving.
  • Proactive training of employees about appropriate operation of electronic devices.
  • Increased research by the automotive industry and the manufacturers of electronic and other devices routinely used in vehicles to improve designs and functions to eliminate driver distractions.
  • Improved driver education, a significant component in securing safety on the roadways and in addressing the hazards of using cell phones while driving. Driver education should include training about elimination, or at least minimizing, driver distractions and to show the horrendous impact a slight distraction can have when an accident occurs such as a death or sustaining a lifelong injury such as brain damage.

edited by Sandy Smith

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