Editorial: The hard truth of distracted driving is deaths on the rise


Spring is here and — oh, look at that bird outside — and now is a good time to think — who is that walking by the office — about the dangerous — wow, is it 4:30 p.m. already — consequences of — what’s for supper tonight — getting distracted. Annoying, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, distractions behind the wheel aren’t just annoyances. In the blink of an eye, they can lead to crashes, injuries and deaths.

With both statewide and nationwide focus on distracted driving throughout April, the Minnesota Safety Council urges all drivers to keep their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and minds on driving.

"We simply can’t do two things at once," said Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council. "Driving needs our full attention and we’re not being responsible if we’re distracted. We are the solution to distracted driving crashes."

Distracted or inattentive driving is identified in one of every four reported crashes in Minnesota, and authorities believe the true number is likely much higher, given the challenges law enforcement officers face in determining distraction as a factor, according to the safety council.

"We can’t ignore the evidence that distraction, whether it’s visual, manual or mental, significantly impairs our driving ability," said Lisa Kons, traffic safety education coordinator for the safety council. "Distracted driving is a big contributor to the current outbreak of traffic deaths in Minnesota."

Traffic deaths increased 13 percent last year, according to preliminary reports from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Kons said, and 2016 is off to a bad start, with 82 deaths year-to-date compared to 64 a year ago.

The Minnesota Safety Council recommends that all drivers:

-Put away the phone and other electronic devices.

-Put down the food, the makeup, the book.

-Recognize that hands-free is not distraction-free.

-Focus on driving.

If you think you can handle doing other things while driving because you are such an excellent driver, think again. Driving instructors estimate that a driver makes an average of 200 decisions during every mile they drive. This leaves no room for multi-tasking while behind the wheel, the safety council points out.

If you are mentally solving business or family problems while driving, you are adding to the total cognitive workload.

If you take your eyes off the road for three to four seconds, at 55 mph the car travels the length of a football field. Other factors, such as fatigue, weather and traffic conditions, can increase the negative impact of distractions on driving ability.

Heed this advice from the safety council: Next time you decide to read a road map or a work report, referee an argument or even engage in an intense conversation on a cell phone or with occupants in the car, ask yourself. ... who’s driving?