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Survey shows scope of distracted driving problem

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Do you ever eat, drink or smoke while you are driving?

Do you ever talk on a cell phone while you're driving?

How about sending or reading text messages or using your computer? Do you do any of those tasks while you're behind the wheel?

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Have you ever argued with another passenger in your vehicle while driving?

And what about if you have kids in your car - have you had to try and break up a dispute between them while traveling down the road?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you can consider yourself a distracted driver.

Driving distractions can be visual - taking your eyes off the road; manual - taking your hands off the wheel; and mental - taking your mind off what you're doing.

The Douglas County Safe Communities Coalition recently asked area businesses, both large and small, to complete the Distracted Driving Survey.

The committee wanted input on whether or not businesses have a policy in place for employees regarding distracted driving, such as cell phone use.

Roughly 100 surveys were sent out in January, according to Crystal Hoepner with the Safe Communities Coalition. Of those who took the survey, 91 percent did not have a distracted driving policy in place for their employees.

Hoepner noted that when the survey was conducted, business owners were asked if they would like to have help in either implementing a policy or changing an existing policy. Hoepner noted that half of the participants who took the survey indicated that they would like to work on the issue of distracted driving.

Amy Reineke, who is also with the Safe Communities Coalition, said the committee plans to continue to get feedback from employers and is also encouraging those who haven't filled out the survey to do so.

Both Hoepner and Reineke said the idea isn't to have "one more policy" put in place, but it's to help keep employees safe.

In addition, they want employers and employees to know that when talking about distracted driving, it doesn't mean just cell phones. Other distractions include Garmins and Tom-Toms, iPods or other MP3 players or even laptops.

Reineke said, however, that if people need to talk on their cell phones while in their vehicle, they should pull off the road.

"But don't just pull over - pull off the road or find an exit," she said. "And be smart about where you pull over; make sure it's a safe place."

Hoepner noted that with some businesses, such as those relying on sales, it's almost as if employees are required to do business while traveling, which often means talking on a cell phone while driving.

One constant question that came up while conducting the survey was about loss of productivity.

Hoepner said, "There is no cell phone call or anything, really, that is worth the risk [of being in an accident]."

If someone is driving 55 miles per hour, she noted, it takes the person the length of a football field to dial a number and a lot can happen in that time frame.

Hoepner and Reineke believe that driving distractions need to be eliminated and that it needs to become the social norm not to use a cell phone while driving.

"It just needs to become unacceptable," said Reineke.

Hoepner added that the community of Douglas County needs to take a proactive stance, instead of being reactive after something tragic happens.

"Safety is key," she said.

If businesses want information about how to develop a distracted driving policy or want to participate in the survey, contact Amy Reineke at (320) 762-3079.

DISTRACTED DRIVING

Distraction is involved in 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes, according to the National Safety Council.

Beyond concern for the safety of employees, crashes are also costly to employers.

An on-the-job crash costs an employer more than $24,000, rising to more than $150,000 if the crash involves injury, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Plus, all employers face ongoing liability, insurance, productivity and absenteeism costs.

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