Wisconsin, Like Many States, Sees Uptick In Distracted Driving Deaths
By Kate Archer Kent, Originally Published on Wisconsin Public Radio News
Wisconsin has cut drunk driving deaths in half over a decade, but deaths due to distracted driving are on the rise. In Wisconsin, there were 113 deaths from distracted driving last year, a 10 percent increase over 2015’s 103 deaths, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Vehicle deaths across the United States have risen for two straight years, marking the biggest increase in more than five decades. Distracted driving due to cell phones is considered one of the major causes in crashes.
Philadelphia attorney Joel Feldman crisscrosses the country speaking out against distracted driving. His 21-year-old daughter, Casey, was killed in 2009 by a driver who looked away from the road and ran a stop sign.
Until that day, I drove distracted. I would text. I would email. I would eat in the car. I’d read things in the car,” Feldman said. “It took me a little while, but one day it dawned on me that what this man who killed my daughter was doing was probably not as bad as all the things that I had done. That changed the way I drive for good.”
Feldman spends the bulk of his time talking to audiences —mostly teens —about how not to be distracted behind the wheel and how to talk with their parents about this risk of checking their phone while driving.
Teens are saying distracted driving is selfish, disrespectful and inconsiderate. They’re personalizing it. That’s the way you change behaviors. We have to make distracted driving socially unacceptable,” Feldman said, whose legal practice is solely focused on cases involving victims of distracted driving.
Feldman identifies three types of distractions for drivers: manual, visual and cognitive.
Manual relates to whether the driver is holding onto the steering wheel. Feldman admits he used to eat yogurt in the car and steer with his knees while holding the cup and spoon in each hand.
Visual relates to what the driver is looking at — either the road or the phone.
Cognitive relates to being distracted even though the driver is gripping the steering wheel and looking at the road. There are other distractions in the vehicle, such as a conversation with a passenger, giving a Bluetooth voice command or having a hands-free cell phone conversation preoccupying the driver’s thoughts.
Through Feldman’s organization End Distracted Driving, he’s addressed more than 100,000 students and adults about distracted driving. He hears many excuses that often revolve around feeling invincible.
“Realistically, the bulk of us have driven distracted and many of us have driven distracted ‘successfully,’ meaning we haven’t been in a crash,” Feldman said. “We have that selective experience of saying, ‘OK, I probably shouldn’t do it, but it’s just a couple seconds. I’ve never been in a crash.’ So, that collective experience makes us feel insulated from it.”
Feldman has tips for families and employers on how to reign in distracted driving:
- Empower teens to speak up when they see a parent or other adult driving distractedly. Currently, Feldman said, teens are the most unlikely group of people to speak up if they see a distracted driver.
- Parents should lead by example. Feldman points to a study that found if a child grows up in a household with a parent who is a distracted driver, that child is almost twice as likely to make those same choices behind the wheel.
- Families and employers can draw up safe driving agreements. For employers, the agreement sets a reasonable response time for answering text messages from supervisors.
- If a driver is worried about putting their cell phone away during a half-hour commute, Feldman suggests pulling over to a safe location every 15 minutes to check and send messages.
- Use an app to cut down on cell phone distractions. Feldman said he uses AT&T’s DriveMode app which silences incoming phone calls. But no major smartphone manufacturer has launched technology that forces users not to text while driving. The manufacturers of top smartphone operating systems, Google and Apple, have features that prevent texting while driving, but it’s all optional.
“I have peace of mind now when I drive that I’m not likely to kill someone else’s child,” Feldman said. “I don’t let anyone invade my time in the car with a call or text that would be an invitation to kill someone with my driving.”