Drivers, Can I Have Your Attention Please?

From Joan Pasiuk, Bike Walk Twin Cities Program Manager

On my bicycling commute to work this morning, I watched yet another driver, cell phone pressed to ear, roll through a stop sign. I thought I was saturated with the clarion call to forswear distracted driving. However, two weeks after Minnesota’s “Distraction Free Driving Day” and a statewide enforcement campaign, it is clear that the job is far from done.

We are all endangered by negligent driving, but the most vulnerable travelers – walkers and bicyclists – have the greatest reason for concern. A survey of nearly 10,000 federal employees asked respondents to identify significant problems they encounter while riding. 78 percent of respondents cited aggressive and inattentive drivers as the most significant and common problem they encounter while cycling. A massive new study of crashes in NYC shows – no surprises – driver inattention was cited in nearly 36 percent of crashes resulting in pedestrians killed or seriously injured.

Current Minnesota state law bans texting, but not cell phone use in general, while driving. New drivers under 18 have stricter requirements and may not use a cell phone while driving. Still, driver distraction is a leading factor in crashes in Minnesota, accounting for around 25 percent of all crashes annually and resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 injuries.

Efforts to educate about safety and enforce traffic laws are proliferating.  Federal Highway Administration (check out the official U.S. Government web site on distracted driving) and Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) are at the forefront of this effort with distracted driver crack-downs and campaigns. KARE11 has a web pledge campaign and has focused media attention to eliminate distracted driving. The League of American Bicyclists has an advocacy campaign and resources – moving national change at macro and micro levels. NYC, armed with new data, –will install  1,600 new countdown signals, re-engineering 60 miles of streets, and testing neighborhood 20 mph speed zones!  Despite these good efforts, they are still not adequate to address the magnitude of the problem.

Ultimately, a combination of more research, better infrastructure, continued ramping up of education and enforcement programs, combined with will ensure safety. The more walkers and bicyclists out there, the more drivers adjust behavior to safely share the space. By being a constant presence on Minnesota roads, bicyclists and walkers can help make streets safer for everyone. See you on the road!