April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month — and that's no joke. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there were more than 15,300 distracted driving crashes in the state last year — a number that has grown by 16 percent in the past four years. And 69 people were killed in distracted-driving crashes in 2015, up from 59 the year before.
To bring those numbers back in line, CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol are joining a national effort to cut down on distracted driving. “In a recent CDOT survey, 25 percent of Colorado drivers admitted to using their cell phones for messaging, 38 percent talked on hand-held cell phones, 63 percent used entertainment devices and 41 percent had eaten while driving in the previous week,” says Darrell Lingk, director of CDOT’s Office of Transportation Safety, in announcing the joint effort. “It’s clear distracted driving poses a threat to anyone on Colorado roadways, and it’s an issue that CDOT will attack head-on this summer through our Drop the Distraction campaign.”
The most common distractions in these Colorado crashes were cell phones — which inspired an earlier CDOT campaign captured in the photo above, which is plenty distracting on its own — followed by other passengers in the vehicle. Here are other pesky distractions, as listed on CDOT's distracted-driving web page:
Adjusting the radio, cd player or other music player
Engaging with passengers, kids or pets
Eating or drinking
Using a map or other navigation device
Shaving, applying make-up or other grooming
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Of the estimated 57,298 distracted-driving crashes in Colorado between 2012 and 2015, 30 percent involved drivers between 21 and 30. Drivers between 31 and 40 were the second largest group of distracted drivers. More than 50 percent of Colorado’s distracted driving crashes from 2012 to 2015 occurred in Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe and Adams counties.
“We know we can save lives by reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road and increasing seat belt usage, which is the reason for our DUI and seat-belt enforcement periods,” says Scott Hernandez, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “Distracted driving is a more recent, but equally dangerous driving habit, and one that we hope to impact through our next enforcement period.”
That period will run from Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10, when state troopers will increase patrols, specifically looking for drivers who are distracted.
CDOT is doing its bit by asking people to submit anti-distracted-driving messages to the department's Facebook page; the best submissions will be put to a public vote, with the winners possibly gracing highway signs in the future. In the meantime, the department has started its own campaign, which features this lonesome highway that's an invitation to distraction.