Officials around the state are looking to lead a push to rid Colorado’s roadways of distracted drivers.
Earlier this month the Colorado Department of Transportation launched its “Get Turned On” campaign as part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, urging drivers to utilize tools to reduce cellphone use while driving. Though for some, distracted driving can mean much more than fiddling around on the phone while behind the wheel, and the consequences can be serious.
“It’s the most dangerous thing that we do on a regular basis,” said Colin Remillard, a Colorado State Patrol spokesman. “I think everybody is guilty. Driving is something people do everyday, and it’s taken for granted when people go on autopilot from their house to work twice a day. But these are thousand-pound missiles going down the highway. Every time you get in a vehicle you need to be tuned in and paying attention every time.”
According to CDOT, distracted drivers are involved in an average of 43 crashes every day across the state, about 13% of all crashes. In more than 15,600 crashes involving distracted drivers in the state last year, there were 6,269 injuries and 53 fatalities, according to preliminary data from CDOT.
A survey of Colorado drivers published by CDOT last year revealed that distracted driving was much more common than most people realize, with almost 90% of respondents admitting to driving distracted in the previous week — 40% revealing they’d read a text message on their phones, and 25% saying they’d sent one.
“Driving is a significant responsibility and demands our full concentration,” said Shoshana Lew, CDOT director. “When you fail to pay attention behind the wheel, you put yourself and other travelers at serious risk — our data show that 43 crashes per day in Colorado involve distracted driving.”
Summit County isn’t immune from the issue. According to data released CDOT’s Division of Mobility Operations last year, distracted driving accounted for 57 crashes in the county in 2017, and almost 500 between 2012 and 2017.
“Distracted driving continues to be a big danger for drivers, the community and law enforcement,” said Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons. “We run into it a lot. It’s interesting driving down the road and seeing how many people continue to text as they’re driving, try to catch stuff on video or put on makeup in the visor mirror. It’s extremely dangerous, and you don’t have the time to react you think you do.”
To FitzSimons’ point, the amount of road that distracted drivers can miss while undertaking other activities can be significant. It takes about five seconds to check a text message while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Driving at highway speeds (65 mph), you’re missing about 95.4 feet-per-second — about 476 feet of roadway during that five-second period.
“A lot can happen in that time,” said Remillard.
CDOT is urging drivers to utilize tools to reduce distracted driving, such as “Do Not Disturb While Driving” modes available on iPhones and some Android phones, along with other third-party apps that block notifications while on the move like Life Saver, SafeRide, True Motion Family and Driving Detective.
While cellphones are considered the biggest culprit for distracted driving, officials say that toying around with the radio, eating, entering information into a GPS, reading a map and others can be big distractors. And distracted driving can also mean taking to the road in the wrong state of mind.
“More of our lives are on our cellphones, and with phones now being integrated into cars it’s hard for people to focus on driving with all the info coming through and having it at hand,” said Remillard. “But the biggest thing is state of mind. When people get pulled over for speeding and say, ‘well I just wasn’t paying attention’ that’s distracted driving. It should be an active endeavor, where you’re anticipating what could happen.”
Aside from potential crashes, there are also criminal and financial burdens associated with distracted driving. Adult drivers caught driving while distracted —such as sending text messages — face a fine of $300 and four points on their driver’s license for an initial offense. Violations that lead to bodily injury or death of another could mean a $1,000 fine and up to a year imprisonment.
Though, as distracted driving is difficult to prove for law enforcement agents, the prevention falls almost entirely on the shoulders of individual drivers.
“It’s a really hard thing to enforce and definitively put your finger on,” said Remillard. “It’s hard to see people definitively distracted. But we see a lot of results of it. In some crashes there’s really no other reason for a crash, and you can extrapolate that they were probably distracted.”
“Please don’t engage in it,” added FitzSimons. “And don’t be afraid to encourage others not to do it. Take a stand for safety.”