AETC battles National ‘epidemic’

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(Graphic by The U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — What’s worse than drinking and driving? According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, texting and driving. As a matter of fact, texting while driving is about six times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated.

That’s why Air Education and Training Command is running a Distracted Driving Campaign Nov. 15 through Jan. 15.

Distracted driving — and texting and driving in particular — has become an epidemic,” said Blane Taylor, AETC occupational safety manager. “I think people are shocked to hear texting and driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving. But most people don’t drink every day. Many people do, however, text every day. The sheer volume of texters makes this one of the leading mishap factors for motorists.”

Taylor said in addition to safety awareness, the campaign will focus on letting people know the federal and state laws on distracted driving in the area in which they live.

The president himself has directed federal employees to not text message while driving government vehicles. And handheld cell phone use while driving on Department of Defense installations is strictly forbidden. Despite those efforts, however, the Air Force has not been immune to the catastrophic effects of distracted driving.

Less than a year out of basic training, a 20-year-old Airman lost control of his vehicle while texting and driving. It flipped three times and ejected a passenger. The Airman survived, but his passenger died. He is still haunted by her death.

In another instance, a 19-year-old AETC Airman drove while trying to use the GPS on his cell phone, which sat on his lap. With his eyes off the road, he drifted into the lane of on-coming traffic, striking an ambulance head-on. Both vehicles flipped, and the Airman and two of his passengers died.

Distracted driving causes more than 350,000 vehicle mishaps per year, and texting and driving tops the list of distractions, NHTSA statistics show.

According to studies, five seconds is the average time texting steals a person’s attention from the road. If you are going 55 mph, that’s like traveling the length of a football field blindfolded.

Each one of us can do our part to reduce this epidemic by being informed of the state and federal laws in effect,” Taylor said. “Make a pledge to not use your phone or text while driving. Driving is dangerous enough – even without distractions. Our goal is simple: We want people to stay focused while driving so they can reach their destinations safely.”

Taylor encourages everyone to check out the Department of Transportation’s Web site www.distraction.gov for more information.