27 Investigates: Distracted driving consequences

CANFIELD, Ohio (WKBN) — The first-ever national distracted driving campaign launched in April. It’s called U Drive. U Text. U Pay. to combat this growing problem behind the wheel.

The latest numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show 421,000 people were injured in a distracted driving crash in 2012, and 3,328 people died. That’s nine people every day and 10 percent of all fatal crashes. Of those, 12 percent involved the use of a cell phone.

That’s why the ad shows the deadly consequences of distracted driving. (Warning: graphic clip)

27 Investigates wanted to show what distracted driving looks like first-hand so you can avoid becoming a victim. The Ohio State Highway Patrol set up a closed course for us at the Canfield fairgrounds.

“We see people texting while driving, putting on makeup, reading the newspaper, combing their hair and some people just not mentally focused on the task at hand,” said Lt. Nakia Hendrix, Ohio State High Patrol Canfield Post Commander.

With Lt. Nakia Hendrix riding shotgun, I wanted to recreate what can happen if you don’t pay attention. Putting on makeup takes my eyes off the road. I’m only focused on the visor mirror inches away.

“Not only did you slow down, which now maybe someone can rear end you, you slowed down, you also moved to the right and almost hit a cone,” Lt. Hendrix said.

In Mahoning County, accidents like that happen the most on U.S. Route 224 between Interstate 680 and state Route 11 and on Mahoning Avenue in Austintown. And every year, thousands of new drivers hit the road. At Greg Anderson’s All Star Driving School, students know distractions aren’t tolerated.

“If you can’t stay away from your cell phone in class, what are you going to do in the car? So we try to make it a point, every single day, every single class that cell phones are not welcome here,” Anderson said.

“Divided attention is – if you try to pat your head, rub your belly and stomp your foot and you can’t do all three of those. Something’s got to give, somewhere. And if it’s driving, it can mean the difference of someone getting killed or injured,” Anderson said.

We also tested to see how dangerous texting and driving really is. Lt. Hendrix explains if you drive 55 mph, you can cover the length of a football field in the time it takes you to send a text message. I take my eyes off the road for five seconds while texting before hitting a cone.

“So we hit a cone but that cone could be a person, it could be a curb, it could be dropping off the road and having to correct that?” Erika Thomas asked.

“You’re exactly right and we’ve seen that locally here in this Mahoning County/Trumbull County area recently. It can be a person, it can be a mailbox, it can be a telephone pole,” Lt. Hendrix replied.

This time, the victim was only a traffic cone. But those few seconds could mean the difference between life and death.

“Worst case scenario, they’re injuring someone or killing someone,” Lt. Hendrix said.

Keep in mind, texting behind the wheel is illegal. Click here to learn about the laws in each state.

In Pennsylvania, all drivers are banned from texting and you can be pulled over for it. The fine costs $50. Learn more about Pennsylvania’s anti-texting law here.

In Ohio, drivers under 18 are banned from all cell phone use. Adult drivers are banned from texting but it’s a secondary violation. So you have to be pulled over for something else first. Fines start at $150. Learn more about Ohio’s texting ban and consequences here.

Lt. Hendrix says if another driver’s behavior shows signs of distraction, follow these tips to avoid getting hurt:

  • Pay attention to surroundings
  • Steer clear, stay behind them
  • Call #677 (contacts local patrol post & officers will try to intercept driver)
  • Drive defensively

OSHP troopers keep a close eye on adult drivers they see texting behind the wheel and will pull them over for traffic violations caused by distracted driving.

“They’re looking down for a reason. So, definitely we’re going to be looking a little bit closer at that vehicle than we would someone else,” Lt. Hendrix said.

For fatal crash statistics in Mahoning County and distracted driving myths debunked, you can read the Spring 2014 publication of SafePoints. The Ohio State Highway Patrol provided the information, published in conjunction with the New Middletown Police Department, USDOT/NHTSA and ODPS.

Reported by Erika Thomas

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