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According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, applying makeup while operating a vehicle, reading, cell phone use and looking at an object or event outside of the vehicle are the principle actions that cause distracted driving and lead to vehicle accidents.

Photo by Cpl. Melissa Wenger

Distracted driving kills: keep your eyes and mind on the road

19 Apr 2013 | Cpl. Melissa Wenger 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Taking a bite, sending a text, changing the radio station. These are things we do every day, but they’re also things that no one should do while driving.

The National Safety Council has designated April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month across the country.

Distracted driving can be described as any action that requires cognitive, visual, and manual involvement while on the road. Some actions, such as texting, require all three functions and prove to be formidable attention drainers.

“If you think about it, you’re more likely to get into a collision if you’re not looking at the road than you are if you’re looking at the road,” said Staff Sgt. Jared Riske, MCAS Miramar provost marshal’s office traffic division chief and a Concord, Mich. native. “If you’re looking at a text message, you’re not looking at the road.”

In his two years aboard the station, Riske has seen an increase in cell phone use while driving that parallels the prevalence of a now common electronic item.

“As new technology comes out and people buy more of it, it’s definitely something that you see constantly now,” he said. “It was distracting enough to be holding a phone to your ear carrying on a conversation while you’re driving down the road… but now the focus has gone from just your mind being distracted to your eyes being completely off the road looking at the display on your smartphone.”

Riske has a viable suggestion for promoting focused driving amongst peers.

“Make a commitment to not being distracted,” he said. “Influence others to be responsible by letting others know that you’re being responsible and setting a voicemail up to read, ‘my phone’s turned off because I’m driving right now, so please leave me a message and I’ll call you back when I get to where I’m going.”

Distracted driving is not limited to cell phone use, although it is its most popular manifestation. Some other actions that divert a driver’s attention include consuming food, reading and even adjusting the radio, which is cited as “auxiliary equipment use” on the California driver’s license test and counts as an automatic failure.

“Just in the seconds it takes you to move from one station to another or search for a station, you can travel as far as three to four football fields without even looking at the road before you look up,” said Riske. “If a kid had jumped out or a car had stopped in front of them, they’re going to completely miss it.”

Riske explained that the leadership is on board with distracted driving prevention, and Marines should follow suit. 

“I know how the station’s [commanding officer] feels about it; it’s a risk that is not acceptable,” he said. “You shouldn’t even be considering texting and driving or having access to your phone while driving and he would much rather you not answer a phone call from your supervisor for ten minutes than to be in an accident.” 

San Diego’s rush hour traffic seems to resemble a never ending sea of brake lights, but that’s still no excuse to whip out a phone or chow down on a meal at the wheel.

“They think it’s acceptable because they’re at a complete stop and their foot is on the brake so they can do whatever they want in the vehicle, such as texting or taking a phone call,” said Sgt. Phillip Jaimes, patrolman and a San Antonio native. “That’s still the same thing, because if your foot slips off the brake and you rear-end the guy in front of you, you’re still at fault.”

The station’s PMO remains vigilant and takes its responsibility to keep drivers safe very seriously.

“The provost marshal’s authority is in accordance with the station order P55.10B, which assimilates all of the California vehicle codes,” said Riske. “Anything that’s a violation of state law or a violation of the base general’s policy is a violation that we enforce.”

And according to California's vehicle code, a driver can be cited for engaging in "any activities" that distracts the driver and causes them to have a "wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property." The law is purposefully worded in a broad tone, and is like the Article 134 of vehicle law.
For more information about distracted driving and tips on how to prevent it, visit the official U.S. government website for distracted driving awareness,