[Editor’s Note: The following column was written and submitted by New Canaan Police Chief Leon Krolikowski. Please note also that you can find New Canaan Police Department’s Stop Distracted Driving Pledge here—Stop Distracted Driving Pledge-NCPD—which can be completed and emailed to email@example.com.]
With ever-increasing demands on our personal and professional time in today’s busy society, learning to juggle multiple tasks at once is something we all face daily. As a result, a new traffic safety epidemic has emerged on New Canaan’s roadways that demands immediate attention: distracted driving.
So, why do so many people participate in this dangerous behavior? With more technology now than ever, driver distractions have risen to unprecedented levels. We live in a world where people expect instant, real-time information 24 hours a day, and those desires don’t stop just because they get behind the wheel. Drivers simply do not realize—or choose to ignore—the danger they create when they take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, and their focus off driving.
People often say, “I can do two things at once. I’ve memorized where the numbers are on my phone, so I don’t have to look.” Or, “Sending or reading one text is pretty quick—that should be OK.” They couldn’t be more wrong.
For those who think they can do two things at once, think about this: According to a study by Carnegie Mellon, driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. Can you really afford to lose that much brainpower? Driving is an activity that requires your full attention and focus in order to keep yourself and others safe.
Distracted driving is the most significant threat to traffic safety we have seen in many years. Distracted driving has become a trend with deadly, real consequences. The entire New Canaan Community must work together on making our roads safer. To tackle this ever-increasing problem, our Department is focusing on ways to change the behavior of drivers through education, enforcement, and petitioning our Legislative Representatives to enhance the penalties for distracted driving—the same tactics that have curbed drinking and driving and increased seat belt use.
What is Distracted Driving? Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety. These types of distractions include:
- Using a cell phone or smartphone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Reading, including maps
- Using a navigation system
- Watching a video
- Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
- The use of a handheld cellular telephone or other electronic device is banned for all drivers.
- The use of a cellular telephone (handheld and hands-free) is banned for bus drivers.
- The use (handheld and hands-free) of a cellular telephone or other electronic device while driving is banned for novice* drivers.
- Texting while driving is banned for all drivers.
*Connecticut defines novice drivers as those under the age of 18 or with a learner’s permit.
For anyone who thinks they can talk on their phone, text, apply make-up, or do any other distracting activity while driving, it’s time for a crash course in reality.
- In 2012, 3,328 people were killed and approximately 421,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. (NHTSA)
- Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to be involved in a serious crash. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
- Nine percent of fatal crashes in 2010 were reported as distraction-affected crashes. (NHTSA)
- In 2011, 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group had the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted. (NHTSA)
- Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent-at 55 mph-of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.
- Hands free cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use.
While these numbers may sound like just statistics, they are anything but. These statistics could be parents, children, neighbors and friends from right here in New Canaan. There are too many sad tales of deaths and injuries that could have been prevented had drivers been paying attention to the road instead of someone or something else.
In 2011, a New Canaan resident was involved in a fatal accident involving a pedestrian. The accident occurred just over the New Canaan line in Norwalk. The New Canaan resident was using her cellular telephone immediately prior to striking and killing the pedestrian.
From June 1, 2013 thru June 1, 2014, 545 motor vehicle accidents occurred in New Canaan. Of these accidents, 49 caused injuries. Many of these accidents can be attributed to some form of distracted driving.
In response to unacceptable accident rates and community concern, our Department, with the support of the Police Commission, and the community, has launched an aggressive enforcement campaign that will target distracted drivers.
On Monday, June 16, New Canaan Officers joined forces with Norwalk and Wilton Officers in order to stop distracted driving. We will continue to aggressively enforce distracted driving in New Canaan. If you violate distracted driving laws in our Town expect to get a ticket.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
- Don’t be a distracted driver.
- Today, make the commitment to drive distraction-free.
- Protect lives by never texting or talking on the phone while driving.
- Be a good passenger and speak out if the driver in the car you are in is distracted.
- Encourage your friends and family to drive distraction-free.
- Contact your Legislative Representatives and urge them to enhance the penalties for distracted driving.
- Remember those 3,328 lives that were taken because someone decided they could do two things at once.
A text or call is not worth your life, or anyone else’s. No one is immune from the dangers of distracted driving. So please remember: One text or call could wreck it all.
Please contact me directly at Leon.Krolikowski@newcanaanct.gov should you have a question, concern or an idea for this column.
If you have a traffic complaint or request for enforcement please send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org