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Distracted driving is more than just cell phones

A driver heads west on Falcon Parkway during a recent morning commute.

A driver heads west on Falcon Parkway during a recent morning commute.

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It has been the leading cause of accidents involving fatalities or injuries in Colorado for at least the last four years, and it doesn't come in a can or bottle.

Distracted driving has been the primary cause of fatal and injury crashes investigated by the Colorado State Patrol since 2011 and made up an average of 20 percent of those accidents.

"AAA said in 2013 that 13 to 15 people die per day due to distracted driving," said Tech. Sgt. Alejandro Torres, 50th Space Wing ground safety manager.

Torres said people often assume distracted driving only refers to activities involving cell phones, but distracted driving encompasses much more.

"Cell phones are the first thing people usually go to when they think of distracted driving, but it could be anything in your car physically, or even in your mind that can distract you," Torres said. "In the traffic safety course we teach, we talk about three different types of distracted driving: manual, visual and cognitive."

Manual distraction includes anything that takes the driver's hands off the wheel or vehicle controls. Visual distractions cause the driver to take his or her eyes off the road, while cognitive distraction is when the driver is mentally focused on something other than driving.

From 2011 to 2014, distracted driving was the primary cause for an average of 720 crashes per year, according to data from CSP. Driving under the influence was the primary cause of crash an average of 511 times per year, during that same timeframe.

"[The average difference] is why local law enforcement is stepping up their focus to try to help reduce those numbers," Torres said.

Torres said local law enforcement agencies will be emphasizing on distracted driving enforcement this summer. The El Paso County Sherriff's Office will have a particular focus on Highway 94 and Bradley road, he added.

"They're going to be out in force focusing on speeding and enforcement of distracted driving," Torres said. "That's going to last throughout the summer."

One of the biggest distractions those commuting to and from Schriever Air Force Base deal with regularly is one that many wouldn't think of as a distraction, the sun. Because most people commuting to Schriever are traveling east in the morning and west in the afternoon, the sun becomes a significant distraction throughout the commute.

"[The sun] is a distraction as well because it clearly takes away your ability to see the road," Torres said. "We talk about it in [newcomer's briefing] for everybody who is new here and we emphasize it wherever we can. We give out sunglasses for people to keep in their cars so while they're driving to and from work they have something to mitigate that hazard."

In addition to the sunglasses, the Safety office also offers a traffic safety course, a requirement for new Airmen but anyone can sign up for if they simply want a refresher on some of the hazards of distracted driving.

"We require new Airmen to take the course and that's where we try to reach everybody, when they're new to the Air Force," Torres said. "We tell them more Airmen die from traffic accidents than from combat related injuries. We're trying to mitigate this as best we can."

Safety encourages people to use an approach to risk management that allows them to SEE: search, evaluate and execute. The premise behind this approach is to always be aware of what's going on around you, evaluate anything that looks potentially dangerous and execute a plan to remove or reduce the danger.

"I always give the example of seeing that law enforcement has pulled someone over on Highway 94," Torres said. "You see it, that's the first thing. Then evaluate, are they close to the road or far off, then execute. You need to move all the way over because of the move over law; slowdown 10 mph below the speed limit and it's as simple as that. But if you're not paying attention, you're not going to be able to do that."

One way to cut down on distracted driving by military members, at least according to a 2013 USAA survey, is to have supervisors and/or commanders simply request that people not text while driving. Based on the survey results, 57 percent of people responding said they would stop texting while driving if their commander or supervisor asked them to.

"That particular statistic tells us that if we could just get supervisors, or anybody, to talk about [distracted driving] and tell people that they shouldn't drive distracted, then maybe we could lower the number of accidents," Torres said. "We often take driving for granted because we do it [regularly] without incident, but one time could end your life or change your life dramatically."

For more information, contact the 50 SW Safety office at 567-SAFE (7233).
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