Put the phone down when behind the wheel

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month nationwide and a good time to put down that cell phone

Cell phones aren’t the only things that can distract a driver. The list includes water bottles, the radio, foods just purchased at a drive-through or the family dog sitting on the driver’s lap.

Crashes and injuries related to distracted driving have increased during the past several years, in contrast to a decades-long decrease in the amount of driving under the influence related incidents, according to the AAA East Central. Distracted driving claimed more than 3,000 lives nationwide in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Drivers in West Virginia and Ohio aren’t allowed to use a cell phone while driving, unless it is hands free using technology available in today’s vehicles.

Drivers know they are putting themselves and others in harm’s way when they are holding a cell phone, either making a call, receiving or sending texts or checking on other items on the phone. But drivers still use their phones.

Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers talking on a cell phone are up to four times as likely to crash as other drivers, while those who text are up to eight times as likely to be involved in a crash. Despite the risk, drivers increasingly report using technology behind the wheel. Nearly half, 49 percent, of drivers report recently talking on a hand-held phone while driving and nearly 35 percent have sent a text or e-mail, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This behavior is in contradiction to the fact that nearly 58 percent of drivers say talking on a cell phone behind the wheel is a very serious threat to their personal safety, while 78 percent believe that texting is a significant danger.

Moreover, an additional danger to motorists is the common misconception that distraction ends after you’ve stopped using your phone. Additional AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research found that potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist for as long as 27 seconds after drivers use voice-based technology to dial, change music or send a text message. At 25 mph, motorists can travel the length of nearly three football fields during this time frame.

Since 2013, the use of cell phones while driving has been a primary offence in West Virginia, meaning drivers can be pulled over by law enforcement just for these actions. The first offense is a $100 fine, with a second offense resulting in a $200 fine. Get caught three or more times and you receive a $300 fine and three points on your record.

We were all taught when learning to drive to pay attention to the road. Today, drivers are surrounded by distractions.

Put down the phone and ignore it. Limit the distractions inside a vehicle.

Being involved in an accident, or being pulled over by police, isn’t worth having that cell phone in your hand or other distractions in the vehicle.