Whether you’re driving intoxicated or “intexticated,” the bottom line is you should do neither. A few seconds of inattention can end your life or cause you to kill or permanently injure someone else.
That message can’t be told enough times to Southland drivers, officials from the Automobile Club of Southern California and law enforcement say. However, you can still see drivers throughout the San Fernando Valley and beyond texting while operating a vehicle — not only on streets but even freeways.
Other motorists can also tell when you’re texting: hesitating, head down, watching YouTube or movies, not noticing when a streetlight changes, driving slowly and erratically.
At a press conference Tuesday, April 2, in downtown Los Angeles, AAA officials, along with law enforcement and state representatives, collectively told the general public to put down — or better yet put away — their cellphones and smart phones while driving.
As part of the campaigns for Distracted Driving Awareness Month this April, the AAA and law enforcement say they are stepping up efforts to make cellphone and smartphone use while driving as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving. AAA will do so with PSAs and advertising. LAPD and CHP officers will be even more vigilant for distracted driving.
“What we know is, with all the education campaigns that have taken place since the early 1980s, the number of alcohol-impaired crashes have been cut by about half,” said Dough Shupe, AAA corporate communications and programs manager. “There used to be 20,000 people a year dying as a result of DUI crashes. Today there is about 10,000 a year.
“What we know about the texting-while-driving crashes; nine people a day die in America, and more than 1,000 are injured. So we’re trying to see that stigma that built up around drinking while driving to help cut those deaths down, we want that stigma to be developed with texting while driving.”
The AAA surveyed more than 400 Southern California drivers in February this year on whether they used their cellphones or smartphones while actively operating a car. According to the survey, 10 percent of those drivers said yes. “And that’s the people who admitted to it,” Shupe said, intimating the total figures could be higher.
The study also showed, according to the AAA, that drivers significantly more likely to text while driving are between the ages 24-39, and/or are those who send and receive more than 50 text messages per day on their smartphones.
Other information revealed from the survey:
— Nearly half (46 percent) of those admitting to driving “intexticated” do so for navigation;
— Other smartphone distractions included searching for audio or music, providing a quick response to a message and/or feeling more productive;
—Drivers were most likely to drive while “intexticated” when they were alone in the car, and;
— Ten percent of those surveyed said they had been involved in a crash in the past five years in which they believe distraction played a role.
“These crashes can result in deaths and injuries, just like with drunk driving,” Shupe said. “The problem is most people know it’s wrong and dangerous to get behind a wheel after drinking alcohol. Yet those same drivers don’t think twice about picking up their phones while behind the wheel.”
Dee Dee Gonzalez, who in 2017 was riding a motorcycle when she was struck head-on and nearly killed by a distracted driver near her home in Rancho Palos Verdes, spoke again about the horrific accident on Tuesday.
“It took a half a day to stop the bleeding, and nine hours of surgery to put my body back together again,” said Gonzalez, 48, who sustained a broken leg at the thigh, a fractured sacrum (a bone in the lower back), fractured pelvis and fractured femur, and needed metal rods inserted to stabilize her injuries. Her trauma surgeon later told her that when she was first brought to the hospital, she was given a 50 percent chance of survival.
Gonzalez is one of nearly 400,000 people in the US who are or have been killed or injured each year by distracted drivers. She said she will have pain the rest of her life.
“Part of sharing my story in this campaign — and I’m more of an introvert, private person — is therapeutic for me. And people can see that it is real people who get hurt,” she said. “Not that living with the daily discomfort and pain is any walk in the park. But I don’t mind reliving and telling my story in hopes it can reach one person, and change one person’s driving behavior.”
LAPD Capt. Al Neal said that distracted driving isn’t just about using your phone.
“Whether people are putting on makeup. reading a book, or have a dog in their lap, those are all violations while you’re driving. And we are seeing a significant amount of accidents that we can attribute to distracted driving,” Neal said.
California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara spoke of an Assembly bill that would make texting while driving the same as a moving violation, which would mean higher fines and points on an offender’s driving record. And it would adversely impact insurance rates.
The potential legislation is in committee, Lara said, “but we will make sure we support it and continue to push for it. We have to de-incentivize people from using their cellphones while driving.”