Tennessee Highway Patrol launches distracted driving campaign

THP Distracted Driving

Shelby County Sheriff's Office deputy Sgt. Vernon Greer weaved through traffic on Germantown Parkway and pulled over a gray SUV Monday morning.  The driver was attempting to make a phone call when Greer pulled over the vehicle.  "The call itself is not against the law, it is the fact that the driver was not devoting full attention to the road," Greer said.  "The driver was issued a citation for failing to devote full attention to the road."  Local police joined the Tennessee Highway Safety Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol in Memphis Monday for the launch of the statewide distracted driving campaign.  For the first time, the Highway Patrol brought in its distracted driving enforcement bus to crack down on distracted drivers on roadways, said Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Chris Richardson.  "If they don't pay attention to a big old bus that says State Trooper on it, you know they are not paying attention to the roadway and the other motorists out there," Richardson said.  "Anything that takes your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel or mind off driving is a distraction.  Whether it's using that cell phone, or people doing their hair and makeup and even reading the newspaper.  We have seen all of that."  Police issued a total of 22 tickets, including eight for texting in about 45 minutes Monday on roadways including Interstate 40, Germantown Parkway and Stage roads.  Drivers face a $50 fine for distracted driving and, if the offense reoccurs, possible suspension of the drivers’ license, Richardson said.  The statewide crackdown is part of the month long National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and also the state Safety Office's third annual "Thumbs Down to Texting and Driving" campaign.  According to the NHTSA, nearly 3,500 people were killed and about 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015, the latest figures available.  Paul Atchley, a psychology professor at the University of Kansas, who has done research on distracted drivers for the last 15 years, said distracted driving is a major factor on roadways.  "All the research we have available says that someone using a phone while driving is equivalent to or maybe worse than a drunk driver, Atchley said.  "There have been multiple studies that have looked at this.  We have been doing research on phones in cars for 50 years.  This is not a new research area.  But when you compare a drunk driver to a distracted driver scenario, the drunk driver actually drives better."  Atchley added that education and awareness campaigns need to be coupled with legislation and enforcement to make an impact on the issue.  "The roads have been increasingly riskier over the last 10 years and distracted driving is one of the biggest causes," Atchley said.

4/12/17

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