What you need to know about “distracted driving.”

By now, you have heard about the dangers of texting and driving. Even the simple task of dialing home while barreling down the highway has a level of risk. The dangers associated with cell phone use while driving have popularized a new warning: distracted driving.

If you have shrugged off cell phone warnings because you don’t send text messages, you might want to reconsider what AAA representatives are calling “the most dangerous of all distractions behind the wheel.”

Start with the facts and the penalties associated with driving while texting or driving distracted:

  • As of September 2012, texting while driving is illegal in Ohio. It is a secondary offense for adults, but minors can be pulled over for using any electronic device other than a GPS.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has formally banned texting as well as any use of a handheld phone while driving. Fines for texting while driving can reach $2,750, along with suspended licenses.
  • Carriers are not allowed to let their drivers use handheld cell phones while driving. Ignoring this can lead to fines up to $11,000.
  • Commercial motor vehicle drivers who text while driving have a 23% greater chance of a crash or near-crash.
  • Distracted driving now accounts for 16% of all traffic fatalities.

It would be untrue to say that cell phones are more dangerous than alcohol, which is still to blame for almost twice as many traffic deaths. However, unlike the risqué reputation that alcohol has earned over several decades, cell phones are seen as business and communication tools, and this underestimation is perhaps what makes them so dangerous.

When it comes to distracted driving, here is what you should be aware of:

Teenagers aren’t the only ones texting, contrary to what the media might make you believe. Yes, the population under 25 years of age send text messages more than their older counterparts. If you do not send text messages now, chances are that you will pick it up over the next five years. Just because you are not a teenager does not mean that you can ignore the warnings.

Know where to draw the line. Sending a quick message while at a red light is usually harmless, but this opens the door to sending a quick message while driving. Without knowing it, you can end up testing the limits of “safe texting” well beyond safe practices. It’s all about habits. Develop yours carefully.

Mobile phones are able to do more and more. Anything that draws your eyes away from the road is considered distracted driving. Checking sports scores. Reading emails. Watching YouTube videos. Checking Facebook. Playing Angry Birds. Plugging an address into your GPS app. Ever done any of these while driving? Don’t kid yourself. They’re all as distracting as texting.

What you can do. If you are a driver, set routines for yourself that help you avoid hefty fines and accidents on the roads. Set your GPS, check email and read your favorite Buckeyes blog before your truck is moving.

If you employ drivers, start by establishing guidelines and expectations. Consider investing in Bluetooth or headset units that allow a call to be answered verbally or with the push of a button. Make it clear to your drivers that illegal cell phone use may result in additional penalties from the company. Offer assistance, seminars or even something as simple as an open door to any drivers who ask for help in putting down the phone.