Wisconsin Association For Justice

Ordinarily a few seconds may not seem like a long time. If you’re behind the steering wheel of a moving vehicle, however, just a few seconds can change your life.

Those few seconds made all the difference for Casey Feldman. She was a senior at Fordham University and an award-winning student journalist who died in 2009 after being hit by a distracted driver. Her parents, Joel Feldman and Dianne Anderson, established a foundation to increase awareness and help end distracted driving, www.enddd.org.

April will be National Distracted Driving Month, when hundreds of attorneys who are passionate about promoting safety and preventing injuries will join judges, safety experts and advocates to speak at schools, community groups, civic organizations and other gatherings in the U.S. and Canada. They will present the statistics of the current distracted driving crisis, share stories about the costs, and offer steps that drivers (and passengers) of all ages can take to end distracted driving.

What is distracted driving? Distractions can be visual (taking eyes off the road), manual (taking hands off the wheel), or cognitive (taking mind off the road). Examples include grooming, eating and drinking, adjusting audio devices, using navigational devices, reading a roadmap, interacting with passengers and many other seemingly “harmless” diversions.

While these may seem trivial, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that in 2009 distracted driving was responsible for more than 5,000 deaths and close to 450,000 injury-producing crashs in the U.S.

One of the most frequent distractions is driving while using a cell phone. Texting and talking on a cell phone are both mental and physical distractions. Cell phone use is attributed to 18% of fatalities in distraction-related crashes according to NHTSA.

Here are statistics from www.distraction.gov/:

  • Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.
  • Drivers who use handheld devices are 4 times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.
  • Sending/receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds-the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field, including end zones, at 55 mph.
  • Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

Teenagers are most at risk. According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger. Also, 48 percent of all teens reported being in a car while a driver was texting.

Because of the danger, Wisconsin prohibits texting while driving. A resulting ticket can cost drivers between $20 to $400 along with four demerit points against the driver’s license. Wisconsin also outlaws distracted driving, or “being so engaged or occupied as to interfere with the safe driving of that vehicle.” The fine is $173 and 4 points.

Recently the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 291, which prohibits drivers under age 18 with probationary licenses and instruction permits from using cell phones and other wireless handheld communication devices. The fines would be $20-$40 for the first offense, then $50-$100. The bill is awaiting action by the Governor.

Help spread the word about distracted driving. Follow the rules of the road and be aware of vehicles and pedestrians around you. Turn off your cell phone when driving or engaging in other distracting activities. There is nothing so important that it can’t wait until the car is parked.

Parents, please educate your children and their friends on the dangers of distracted driving. Your efforts will help make Wisconsin roadways safer.