Not many will admit it, but the fact is a lot of us text while we are behind the wheel. And many more talk on the phone while driving.
Both of those by now ingrained habits for most of us will be under the spotlight, thanks to a Distracted Driving Enforcement Grant the Hermiston Police Department recently received through Oregon Impact, a nonprofit that advocates against impaired and distracted driving.
The $4,000 grant is the first of its kind received by the HPD, which also pursues grants supporting high visibility and DUII enforcement.
And, according to the numbers, it’s a grant that can be put to good use.
According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, there are four types of distracted driving — visual, auditory, manual, and cognitive. One of the most prominent behaviors, which can involve all four types of distracted driving, is cellphone use.
Between 2013 and 2017, 20 people in Oregon died and more than 1,500 have been injured due to crashes involving cellphone use behind the wheel. This includes 158 people who were injured while in the car with a driver between the ages of 16 and 18, who was using a cellphone at the time of an accident.
Those numbers are up from a similar ODOT report from 2011 and 2015 where drivers using cellphones caused 917 crashes that killed 14 people and inflicted 1,330 injuries.
The number of crashes in the city of Hermiston has increased 10% the past five years as the city’s population has expanded from over 17,340 to 18,200 people.
Those are eye-opening numbers. Especially when the event that triggered the crashes — cellphone use — could be easily avoided.
The fact is even one crash that injures or kills an Oregonian is one crash too many.
“There’s a significant difference between talking on a cellphone and texting on a cellphone,” said Hermiston Police Department Chief Jason Edmiston. “There may be some sort of justification for someone talking on a cellphone. Texting on a cellphone, there’s no rhyme or reason. Pull over if it’s that important.”
Cellphones have changed our culture. And they are a useful, handy tool most of us count on. Yet their very usefulness has lulled drivers into a sense of apathy regarding just how dangerous it is to utilize them behind the wheel. For a car accident to occur, it takes only a few seconds, usually far too fast for the driver to react to avoid a collision. Add that fact to the distraction of talking on the phone — or worse, texting — and a fine recipe for disaster is in play.
Let’s face it, we all have spent time talking on the phone and texting while driving, and for the most part we get away with it. Usually. But not always.