TRAFFIC SAFETY: Oregon DOT launches safety task force against distracted driving

April 6, 2016

Incidents statewide attributed to distracted driving described as being of “epidemic” proportions

This story is adapted from a statement issued by the Oregon Department of Transportation

An Oregon State Police vehicle totaled when a distracted driver’s car hit it last February took center stage on the Capitol Mall this week, showing what can happen when drivers are distracted for even a short time.

ODOT Director Matt Garrett kicked off National Distracted Diving Awareness month in Oregon by announcing that ODOT, OSP, AAA Oregon/Idaho and other partners are forming a task force to reduce distracted driving.

“Distracted driving is an epidemic in Oregon,” said Garrett. “We are challenging Oregon drivers to ditch the distractions and focus on driving.”

ODOT crash data reveals that on average, over the five-year period from 2010 to 2014, a distracted driver crash occurred every 2.5 hours. In Oregon on average, more than 11 people die in distracted driving crashes each year, and more than 2,800 are injured.

In a recent ODOT-commissioned survey conducted by Southern Oregon University, three-quarters of respondents admitted to driving while distracted; 84% of respondents said they feel uncomfortable riding as a passenger with a distracted driver who is distracted. But 44% admitted to driving distracted with passengers in their vehicle, and 75% admitted to driving distracted when driving alone, much of which can be attributed to personal smart devices.

“Many drivers demonstrate a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ attitude toward distracted driving,” said Marie Dodds, Director of Government and Public Affairs for AAA Oregon/Idaho and member of the newly announced task force. “AAA’s research shows almost half of all drivers read texts or emails while driving, and most of us talk on our phones while driving. We urge you to avoid interacting with your smart technology while you’re driving. It’s a huge and dangerous distraction.”

Oregon State Police are now using a fleet of 40 new unmarked vehicles to observe and document distracted driving. OSP Troopers have already documented a 37% increase in enforcement actions.

“We’re reducing what we call the fatal five driving behaviors: speed, occupant safety, lane usage, impaired driving and distracted driving,” said OSP Captain Dave Anderson. “We’re asking drivers to put down their phones, for safety’s sake.”

The task force will include a broad base of members from law enforcement, public health, the courts, emergency services, academia and the media. Its goal is to reduce distracted driving through sustained efforts in education, enforcement and policy initiatives.

“Drivers must recognize our individual responsibility to stop distracted driving,” said ODOT Director Garrett. “If each of us focuses on the job of driving when we get behind the wheel, we’ll save people’s lives and relieve the enormous emotional toll on our families and friends.”

Photo: Vlad Lazarenko

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