York City recognizes distracted driving, growing problem in tech age
With Bluetooth, smart cars and a number of other technologies and media becoming more prevalent, they add even more of a concern to the continuing problem of distracted driving.
"I do believe it’s gotten worse, because the smarter our vehicles become, the more distractions they offer," said Barb Zortman, director of the Center for Traffic Safety.
Whether it's technology in cars or using apps such as Facebook and Snapchat while driving, "we allow those things to become a distraction," she said.
The York City Council held a news conference Tuesday, April 17, at the city's police station in recognition of April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
While texting and driving is a legal violation, distracted driving involves “any activity that diverts attention from driving," such as eating, smoking, changing the radio station or even simply talking to a passenger, a news release states.
“It may seem important to take that phone call, take the bite out of that sandwich or add the finishing touches to your makeup,” York City Councilwoman Edquina Washington said, "but trust me, it can wait until you reach your destination, or you can simply pull over."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015.
Aggressive driving: Zortman also coordinates the region's Pennsylvania Aggressive Driving Enforcement and Education Project, which funds police departments, including York City's, to focus on aggressive driving.
The NHTSA and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation define aggressive driving as the operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger a person or property, she said.
“Is distracted driving aggressive?" she asked. "Absolutely.”
York City interim Police Chief Troy Bankert said police would be practicing zero-tolerance enforcement in target areas based on a high number of accident complaints.
In the last year and a half, he said, the city had two incidents in which pedestrians were struck and seriously injured by aggressive drivers.
Washington encouraged businesses and organizations to provide educational resources to their staff members on driver safety.
The science: Zortman offered her own knowledge, saying there's a scientific basis for why drivers are distracted.
"We know for a fact that the brain is designed to focus on one thing at a time," she said.
Zortman said multitasking is common, but it still means the brain is not focused on both tasks 100 percent.
Studies have shown that whenever there were distractions added in a vehicle while a person was driving, the brain was not processing what the eyes were actually seeing — explaining why some people claim not to have seen objects in the road, she said.
A problem for everyone: The Center for Traffic Safety works with high schools in York, Adams, Lancaster and Lebanon counties each year, and York students recently completed their second annual billboard design contest to promote awareness for distracted driving, seat belt use or texting while driving.
But it's not just a young driver problem, Zortman said, and it happens equally often in rural and urban communities.
The center focuses on education for everyone, even kids, because any passenger can be a second set of eyes and say something if they see someone driving distracted, she said.
If that does not deter drivers, she said, perhaps the $50 fine for texting and driving will be enough.
"Our job is to get from point A to point B without endangering our lives or the lives of other people on the roadway," Zortman said.