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To cut traffic deaths, we have to tackle distracted driving

A new campaign led by the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is focusing on distracted driving, including texting on phones.
A new campaign led by the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is focusing on distracted driving, including texting on phones. TNS

There is no such thing as a traffic “accident.” When cars collide, or when a pedestrian or a cyclist gets hit, it’s the result of an action or a choice, not mere happenstance. In other words, it is preventable.

That’s the philosophy behind Sacramento’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries caused by car crashes on city streets by 2027.

 
Opinion

Words can perpetuate a mindset that already has cost far too many lives. For example, even though distracted drivers, including those using cell phones, are the fastest-growing cause of deadly car crashes, surveys and anecdotal evidence show that people don’t take it seriously. A recent study found 98 percent of drivers agree that texting while driving is dangerous, yet 66 percent admit doing it.

This disconnect between public perception and deadly reality has happened before on our roads – when drunken driving was often seen not as a criminally irresponsible act but merely a bad habit. Penalties were light, enforcement was lenient and traffic fatalities were increasing.

So 40 years ago, organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving mobilized to change social attitudes. Through countless hours of activism, these groups slowly but surely evolved society’s perception of drinking and driving. Now, penalties are strict, enforcement is vigilant and responsible adults uniformly shun the practice of driving drunk. As a result, traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers have been falling since the 1980s.

So I am certain that we can similarly persuade the public to think differently about distracted driving. And we must. Texting while driving is now killing more teenagers than alcohol, and it is quickly catching up to alcohol in every other age category.

That is why I am proud to join a new campaign called “We Save Lives,” launched by the founder of MADD, Candace Lightner, to put a stop to distracted driving.

Our campaign hinges on a simple act you can take right now – take out your smart phone, open the settings and update the postscript that appears after emails you send. Mine says “Sent from my iPhone.” But for the month of November, it will end with the phrase “BUT NOT WHILE DRIVING!” This simple step will send an important reminder to friends, families and coworkers about the seriousness of distracted driving.

Through Vision Zero, the city of Sacramento is addressing all forms of traffic hazards causing car wrecks. We are formulating data-driven strategies and safety measures – including education, traffic engineering, enforcement and evaluation – to lessen the factors contributing to traffic deaths and severe injuries.

One such factor is already patently clear: an all-too-prevalent and uninformed perspective on distracted driving. Let’s change that. Please join me in asking friends, colleagues and family to rethink the fatal choice of driving distracted – one email at a time.

Steve Hansen represents District 4 on the Sacramento City Council. He can be contacted at SHansen@cityofsacramento.org.

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