April is Distracted Driving Awareness month and New Jersey police are participating. Distracted driving is just the latest target of public service campaigns designed to improve traffic safety. The latest national campaign, “U Text, U Drive, U Pay” specifically targets a common distracted driving concern: the text message. Texting is far from the only type of distracted driving, however. In fact, it may represent only a small percentage of the distraction that drivers are succumbing to, with deadly results. The crackdown by New Jersey police will focus on all types of distracted driving, including texting behind the wheel.
Some police agencies received grants to increase distracted driving patrols this month. The hope is that the publicity around distracted driving enforcement will help convince drivers to put down their phones, stop adding creamer to their coffee and focus on the act of driving. Similar efforts were considered effective in getting people to avoid driving drunk and to buckle up when they drive. Whether that will work for a problem like distracted driving is not clear.
Drinking and driving requires a number of bad decisions. Buckling up requires a moment of attention before getting underway. Avoiding distraction requires a consistent effort over time. It is not enough to pay attention for 50 percent of the drive, or 80 percent or even 99 percent. Texting is a convenient target because it represents a concrete activity that can be banned. Getting people to focus and stay focused is a much greater challenge.
Still, evidence shows that a growing percentage of drivers do acknowledge that distracted driving is dangerous. That awareness can only help in convincing people to pay attention while they drive. If that leads to fewer car accidents, then the effort is well worth it.
Source: NJ.com, “Drop the phone: Police are cracking down on distracted driving in N.J.,” by Larry Higgs, 2 April 2015