April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is educating the public on the hazards of talking and texting behind the wheel and any other activities that distract drivers.
As part of TxDOT’s campaign, a giant, car-sized smartphone was displayed on campus last Wednesday as a visual reminder of the dangers of distracted driving.
“People are dying on Texas roadways because drivers are diverting their attention from the road to talk on a phone, send a text, mess with their music player or something else that’s distracting. We want everyone to know that these deaths are preventable,” said Kelli Reyna, TxDOT’s Austin District public information officer.
Students are involved in distracted driving accidents at a higher rate than other demographics, Reyna said.
“Distracted driving-related crashes in Texas have been highest among young adults ages 16 to 24, who have the least experience behind the wheel, so that made UT an ideal place for us to get the messages out about the danger of distracted driving,” Reyna said.
Art Fortune, commander of the Austin Police Highway Enforcement Command, said the community’s actions are vital in securing the safety of others on the road.
“We had 102 traffic fatalities last year, which broke a record,” Fortune said. “The only way we can get that number down is by people cooperating and trying to be safer drivers. … It’s about the community taking an active part, so we tell a lot of people just to be those good role models, and if they see somebody doing that behavior to tell them to put that phone away.”
Fortune said distracted driving isn’t limited to the use of electronic devices.
“Distractedness could be anything: … checking a baby in the back seat, playing with the radio, just not paying attention to your driving generally,” Fortune said.
Finance sophomore Zahra Jaffer, who almost got into a car accident because of texting, said she never realized how everything around you could change so fast when you take your eyes off the road for a second.
“I was trying to switch lanes on the highway, but I was texting at the same time,” Jaffer said. “I’m lucky that the car in the next lane honked at me and moved away or else we both would’ve collided, and somebody could’ve gotten hurt. Everything was happening so fast that I didn’t realize what had happened until after it was all over.”