(Buffalo, N.Y.) – April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is aimed at protecting drivers on the road by discouraging the use of cell phones and other devices that can cause serious accidents.
State Police recently concluded Operation Hang Up, which targeted drivers using cell phones and resulted in more than 1,300 citations in western New York.
From April 6 to April 10 State Police across the state issued more than 15,000 tickets, including 2,000 for distracted driving. Last year, more than 18,000 tickets were issued during Operation Hang Up.
Deb Trombley, who runs the distracted driving program at the National Safety Council in Chicago, appeared on the Buffalo Review April 24 to discuss the dangers of distracted driving.
“The results of distracted driving are that people get into crashes and often they can be serious,” said Trombley. “People can drive right through red lights or right through stop signs, they’re not hitting their brakes so they can be hitting vehicles at full speed. That results in serious injuries and even thousands of deaths over the years.”
Distracted driving constitutes anything that can take one’s attention away from the wheel, which most often includes cell phone use.
However, other tasks such as eating, reaching for a drink, changing the radio station or talking to another passenger can be just as distracting as technology.
The National Safety Council runs a campaign during the month of April to promote safe, focused driving and encourages police to enforce state laws to combat distracted driving.
In New York, it’s illegal to use a cell phone without a hands free device. However, there is debate about whether or not a Bluetooth or other hands free device is a safe alternative to handheld cell phone use while driving.
“From a safety perspective, there isn’t much of a difference actually. Hands free use is legal for adult drivers in most states, but the thing that most people don’t know is that it’s really the conversation. The brain is distracted by the conversation. This is called cognitive distraction and that doesn’t go away,” said Trombley.
In the U.S., she said, there is a culture where multitasking is valued, but in reality, people simply switch between two or more tasks quickly, causing the brain to be overworked and unable to focus properly.
Trombley said there are limitations to what a person’s brain can do while driving and it’s essential for passengers and drivers to work together to speak up against cell phone use and other dangerous distractions.
* Isaiah Small contributed to this report.