April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a time to remind Austin drivers that simple changes in behavior can save lives. In pursuit of this goal, Austin Transportation, the Austin Police Department and Capital Metro are partnering to step up distracted driving education and enforcement efforts.
Between 2013 and 2017, distracted driving by a motorist or motorcyclist contributed to 17 percent, or one in six, fatal and serious injury crashes in Austin. Increased enforcement and education around this issue is necessary to thwart the status quo and begin to change cultural norms about the acceptance of driving while talking or texting on a cell phone.
“This effort to reduce distracted driving is one of many actions we’re taking to reach the City of Austin’s Vision Zero goal,” said Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar. “As we work to end traffic deaths and serious injuries on our roadways, we’re asking everyone to pitch in. That means everyone should stay focused on the road and point out distracted driving behavior when they see it.”
In partnership with Austin Transportation, Austin Police Department officers will focus enforcement efforts on specific corridors where recent crash data analyses show a high prevalence of distracted driving. The location selection process was also informed by the High-Injury Network, a comprehensive map that Austin Transportation developed to identify streets in Austin with a relatively high number of serious injury and fatal crashes.
“There is no excuse for distracted driving, it could lead to a serious injury crash or even worse — death,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. “Put your phone down and pay attention to the roads when you are driving. How you behave behind the wheel is seen by young drivers, so set a good example to ensure the safety of our future generations.”
The Austin Police Department and Capital Metro are continuing their collaborative enforcement partnership in which officers ride buses and monitor mobile device use in adjacent vehicles, then call on officers in nearby locations to enforce against that behavior. Through this innovative initiative, officers issue many warnings and citations each year with the goal of deterring mobile device use while driving.
“Distracted driving remains a serious safety challenge,” said Capital Metro President & CEO Randy Clarke. “We appreciate our partnership with the City of Austin on these and other initiatives to reduce traffic incidents and make the streets of Austin safer.”
Throughout April, Austin Transportation, the Austin Police Department and Capital Metro will educate people about the dangers of using mobile devices and screens while driving. This will also involve raising awareness about other forms of distracted driving, such as eating, grooming, focusing attention on others in the vehicle, or simply being inattentive to the road.
Along with failure to yield, speeding, and intoxicated driving, distracted driving is one of Austin’s “fatal four” behaviors, which collectively contribute to more than half of serious injury and fatal crashes in Austin. Distracted driving is likely underrepresented because it can be difficult for law enforcement officers to definitively determine whether a driver was using a cell phone at the time of a crash.