Moving from Awareness to Action

By Debbie Hersman

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. It is good to be aware of the danger of distracted driving. It is even more important to move from awareness to action. That’s why the NTSB held a forum this week on Attentive Driving: Countermeasures for Distraction.

What an informative day we had. You can watch the webcast at: http://www.capitolconnection.net/capcon/ntsb/ntsb.htm#. We had distinguished panelists from across the traffic safety spectrum — including academia, government, and safety advocacy organizations.

Dr. Jeff Caird, University of Calgary, noted the contribution of distraction to U.S. traffic fatalities is increasing and that converging evidence across studies shows driver distraction is a problem. Dr. John Lee from the University of Wisconsin talked about the danger from the proliferation of new applications in our automobiles. Many are designed to be used while driving. Their rapid growth, he said, outpaces policy.

We heard a lot about technology. While technology is contributing to the problem, it can also offer a solution. Dr. Anne McCartt of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spoke of the “great deal of promise” with crash avoidance technology to mitigate the risks of distracted driving.

Panelists also spoke about the challenge of changing behavior. We heard about California’s success with tougher laws and strict enforcement. The bigger challenge is changing social norms — getting to the point where it’s just plain unacceptable to talk on the phone and drive, for example.

It is said that the longest journey begins with a single step. We took an important step this week with our work to change the focus from distraction to attention. The more important steps will be the ones each one of us takes every time we climb behind the wheel: paying attention.

This is what we know from the 33,000 people who die each year on our roadways: driving is serious business and deserves all of our attention, all of the time.

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