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Distracted driving is a growing epidemic

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is using the occasion to highlight the perils of one of the most preventable causes of traffic fatalities.

A recent study on distracted driving produced alarming results. The study, published by driver analytics company Zendrive, revealed that every day 69 million Americans use their phone while behind the wheel. Even more concerning, 26 percent of all motor vehicle accidents are related to distracted driving.

Statistics getting worse

The study found that from 2017 to 2018, the number of distracted drivers increased in every state except Vermont, and every individual city studied had an increase in distracted driving. New York state is the ninth most distracted state, while New York City ranked as the fourth most distracted city.

Sixty percent of all drivers used their phones at least once a day, while 40 percent used their phones each hour. Drivers overall looked at their phones for 1 minute 52 seconds on average, with drivers using their phones longer at night.

In 2017, 2,994 distracted drivers were involved in fatal crashes, and nearly 20,000 people died in accidents involving a distracted driver from 2012 to 2017.

Laws on the books

Texting while driving is against the law in New York. In fact, not only is texting while driving illegal, so is talking on the phone, taking pictures, sending email, playing games and looking at web pages. The laws are even tougher on commercial drivers.

Distracted driving is a primary law in New York, meaning a driver can be pulled over if seen using a phone. The fine for a first distracted driving ticket is $50 to $200. If subsequent violations are committed within 18 months, the fines can go up to a maximum of $450. Each offense also carries with it five violation points off the driver’s license.

Avoiding distracted driving

Distracted driving is dangerous for everyone on the road, but some easy tips can help curb the need for cellphone use behind the wheel.

  • Designated texter – Have a passenger control the phone while driving. Have them send texts, look up directions, play music or complete other distracting tasks.
  • Pull over – If it’s imperative to send a text or make a call, find a safe spot to pull over to do so.
  • Put it away – If having a phone within arm’s reach is too tempting, put it in the trunk or lock it in the glove box to keep yourself safe.
  • Do not disturb – Many phones are now equipped with features to send an automated text while you’re driving so you won’t have to reply to messages.
  • Get Bluetooth – Use a handsfree device equipped with Bluetooth or integrated into your vehicle’s sound system to control your phone with your voice.

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