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U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced that distracted driving-related crashes claimed 5,474 lives and led to 448,000 traffic injuries across the U.S. in 2009. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research, distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009. Although 2009 showed the lowest fatality and injury rates since 1950, the numbers show that distracted driving remains an epidemic in America.

Yesterday, September 21, 2010, was the 2nd National Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C. Leading transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement, industry representatives, researchers and the family members of victims of distraction-related crashes come together to address challenges and identify opportunities for national anti-distracted driving efforts. The purpose of the Summit is to continue to draw attention to the dangers of distracted driving and work together to save lives.

Although the latest statistics look positive, the DOT cautions that the epidemic of distracted driving is likely far greater than currently known because police reports in most states do not routinely document whether distraction was a factor in vehicle crashes, making it more difficult to know the full extent of the problem.

According to NHTSA data, the age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was under 20-years-of-age. In many states, texting and/or talking on the phone while driving is illegal, yet people still do it – mainly teens; in some states the usage has gone up. One teen interviewed for the Summit said she has seen the PSA’s on distracted driving and feels “the scare tactics are ridiculous.” I wonder how ridiculous it would be if she or a loved one was in a fatal accident due to texting or talking while driving. Another said that many teens text while driving because they are bored and want to be doing something.

One excellent point from the Summit was the discussion on when we start teaching our children about the risks of texting and using a cell phone while driving. Most of us would think it should start with drivers’ education, but a point was made that many kids have a cell phone as early as 8-years-old. They use them while walking and riding a bike. These are equally risky situations, and so the habit begins. Parents may not realize how much they play a part in this risky behavior because many times texting is the main way they communicate with their kids.

These life-saving devices are becoming life-threatening. America’s roads are the safest they’ve ever been, but they must be safer. Much still needs to be done to stop distracted driving. The Summit showed a few PSAs created by teens with catchy tunes and messages rather than throwing out a bunch of statistics that don’t grab the attention of our teens. They are highly-effective and worth watching and sharing with teens. They are available at www.dot.gov. Why wait until there is a personal connection for the impact to be biggest enough to make a difference?

“Silence your phone, not your life.” ~ PSA from the 2nd Distracted Driving Summit.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

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