Keeping your focus behind the wheel

As someone who takes care of children and adults who are seriously injured in car crashes, I was happy to see the city of San Antonio pass an ordinance banning the use of hand-held phones while driving. I believe it will save lives if people follow the law.

Unfortunately, cell phones aren’t the only cause of distracted driving — although they are a major cause.

Across the nation on average, distracted driving kills more than nine people each day and injures more than 1,153. To put it plainly, distracted driving increases the chances you will be in a motor vehicle crash.

There are three types of distracted driving:

Visual — Taking your eyes off the road, This includes looking at your cell phone or in-car navigation device.

Manual — Taking your hands off the wheel. This includes eating with one hand while driving or applying makeup.

Cognitive — Taking your mind off the wheel. Talking or daydreaming fall in this category.

The most dangerous form of distracted driving is texting while driving because it involves all three of these types: visual, manual and cognitive. San Antonio has had a ban on texting while driving for some time, and the new ordinance continues and adds other hand-held cell phone uses to that ban.

Distracted driving of all types seems to be a growing problem. Between 2011 and 2012 the number of motor vehicle crashes related to distracted driving increased by 9 percent, from 387,000 to 421,000. Nearly one in five crashes in 2011 involved distracted driving.

And American drivers seem more prone to distracted driving. For example, 69 percent of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 report talking on their cell phone while driving in the last 30 days. In Britain, that number is only 21 percent. Additionally, 31 percent of U.S. drivers report texting and driving, compared to 15 percent in Spain.

Younger and inexperienced drivers are at higher risk, and drivers under 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes reported. Nearly half of U.S. high school-age drivers 16 and older report they’ve texted or emailed someone while driving. And students who themselves text are more likely to ride with a driver who also texts, or a driver who has been drinking. They are five times more likely to drink and drive than those students who do not text.

Distracted driving is a very dangerous behavior that increases the risk of car crashes and motor vehicle-related deaths. We all have very busy lives, but for your own safety and the safety of your family, friends and neighbors, set aside all those distractions while you’re behind the wheel and focus on the road. And urge your kids to do the same.

Dr. Lillian Liao is the pediatric trauma and burn director at University Hospital, and an assistant professor of surgery at the UT Health Science Center.

 Photo by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo