This week, focus on driving instead of distractions

A public service announcement in England about the danger of text messaging while driving is raising eyebrows for its graphic nature.

It’s tough to watch. It also gets the message across.

In the four-minute spot, “Texting While Driving,” a teenage girl driving with two friends in the car drifts into an oncoming lane while texting. Her car smashes into another car head-on, spins around and a third vehicle slams into the girls’ car broadside.

The video shows the girls’ bodies flying around the car and their heads smashing through windows.

Afterward, the bloodied, injured driver screams in horror when she realizes her friends are unconscious and might be dead. A couple and a baby in the other car also appear to be dead. The couple’s little girl in the back seat asks a rescue worker, “Why won’t Mommy and Daddy wake up?”

AAA and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety point to this public service spot, and recent accidents in New York and California suspected of involving text messaging, as they declare Oct. 5-11 “Heads Up Driving Week: Try it for a Week, Do it for Life.”

While AAA hopes to bring attention to the dangers of all forms of distraction while driving — and there are many — texting carries an added element of danger, said Jennifer Cook, a spokeswoman for AAA Washington in Bellevue.

“Text messaging does merit special attention because there’s a significant eyes-off-the-road piece in addition to cognitive distraction,” she said.

AAA Foundation research shows that approximately 1 in 5 U.S. drivers admit to texting while driving at least once in the last 30 days. An AAA analysis of data from a 2006 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute driving study found that taking one’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles the risk of a crash.

Street Smarts addressed the issue of driver inattention a couple of months ago. Some type of distraction on the part of the driver is one of the leading causes of accidents in the state, according to the Washington State Patrol.

In 2007, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a law banning text messaging while driving, according to AAA. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have laws that address text messaging by all drivers. Two more states have laws that prohibit teens or other new drivers from texting while driving, according to the association.

AAA is working to pass laws banning text messaging by drivers in all 50 states by 2013.

Washington’s law took effect in January 2008, but like the state’s ban on talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving, a motorist must be pulled over for another violation before being cited for texting while driving.

Still, statistics show the ban could be helping. In 2008 there were 827 collisions where “driver operating a hand-held telecommunications device” was a contributing factor in the crash, compared to 1,118 in 2007 and 1,246 in 2006, according to AAA Washington, citing numbers from the State Patrol.

So if any of us have found ourselves getting a little too distracted while driving — whether it’s text messaging, talking on a cell phone, eating bananas on our way to work or just plain spacing out — this is a good week to break that habit.

AAA is challenging us to drive distraction-free for seven days. If you don’t think you can do it, take a look at the British public service announcement on YouTube. It might save a life — a friend’s, a baby’s, or your own.

E-mail Street Smarts at stsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your city of residence.

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