Driven to Distraction
Hopefully you're not reading this blog post while driving, and if so, it had better not be in the town of Bedford, because both the Bedford Police Department AND Middlesex Community College are watching!
This week, members of our Criminal Justice program provided a presentation for the command staff of the Bedford Police Department to show them the results of a semester-long service-learning project that studied Bedford drivers, and specifically, distracted drivers. The results were sobering, and will be taken under advisement by the town as part of an enforcement plan moving forward.
Here's how it worked:
The Bedford PD collaborated with our Service-Learning program and an Intro to Criminal Justice course to review existing accident reports, analyze data, and provide recommendation to improve road safety in town. The results showed that distracted driving, primarily through cell phone use, is widespread and needs to be addressed town-wide.
One of the many public safety functions of a police department includes taking appropriate actions to make the roads safer for drivers and pedestrians. The Bedford PD wants to improve driver safety by reducing the number of accidents along what is known as “The Great Road”, a very busy stretch of road from RT 128, to the center of Bedford. The central issue to be examined and evaluated in this project was distracted driving caused by several factors including cell phones, food/drink, grooming, electronics, reading, passenger interaction, and other actions.
Distracted driving is a widespread problem in America and is defined as any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety. But, because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive/mental attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.
Here's some data the students unearthed to support their research in town:
The number of people killed in distraction – affected crashes decreased slightly from 3,360 in 2011 to 3,328 in 2012.
An estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012. This was a nine percent increase from the estimated 387,000 people injured in 2011.
As of December 2012, 171.3 billion text messages were sent in the US every month.
11% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.
For drivers 15 – 19 years old, involved in fatal crashes, 21 percent of the distracted drivers were distracted by the use of cell phones.
At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.
Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.
The data on distracted driving was obtained by students from MCC using two methods; field observation and review of past accident reports from the Bedford Police Department. Students were required to do one hour of field observation and one hour of reviewing past accident reports over a three week period starting September 23 and ending October 11, 2013.
The following recommendations made for the Bedford PD and should be considered as part of a comprehensive plan to address the problem of distracted driving along the Great Road. The goal of reducing traffic accidents resulting from distracted driving by using cell phones will increase safety and benefit the Bedford community.
◦ Enforcement efforts of the Massachusetts law enacted in 2010 on the use and restrictions of electronic/mobile devices should increase. The locations and times to focus on are:
Great Road at Elm: 8am to 9am and 4pm to 5pm
Great Road at South: 4pm to 5pm
Great Road at Marsardis: 4pm to 5pm
The students said this should be done in conjunction with a high – profile public education campaign. It is recommended that both efforts be done consistently over a period of time to have a lasting effect.
Strategies such as the use of plainclothes officers observing cell phone use/texting and radioing other officers to pull the vehicle over, making it a standard operating procedure as part of routine patrol, and targeting efforts focused on specific events such as Distracted Driving Awareness Month should be considered. Observing drivers who are texting can be difficult, so the use of a higher vehicle such as an unmarked SUV if available could be used.
The high - profile public education campaign should include awareness in the local printed media, electronic bill boards such as those in use on route 128-route 3 and social media including Twitter, You Tube and Facebook.
The Bedford PD should consider partnering with local businesses and corporations as well as the high school on distracted driving prevention awareness.
Bedford Chief Robert Bongiorno, an MCC alum, said he was grateful for the work of the students. "They provided a tremendous service to the Bedford community, and yielded some very sobering data about the drivers on our roadways," Bongiorno said. "I look forward to implementing some of their recommendation as part of a strategic deployment of our resources to address road safety issues in town."
Nicely done, folks! And keep your eyes on the road, everyone! You never know who may be watching!