Distracted driving has become a growing problem

Our County

A 2-ton vehicle travels down a highway at 50 mph. Its driver takes two seconds to check a text message. How far has that vehicle gone with the driver’s eyes were off the road?

In two seconds, the vehicle has traveled 146.5 feet, nearly half the length of a football field.

This is not simply academic. Given a recent spike in traffic fatalities, it’s something all drivers should consider when they venture out on our roads.

Mahalo to Maui Police Department Sgt. Nicholas Krau of the Traffic Section/DUI Task Force Unit for calculating the distance a vehicle travels in just a few seconds.

Of course, distracted driving is just one of many causes of fatal traffic collisions. But it is a growing problem with more people refusing to set aside their cellphones and devices, even when doing something as potentially dangerous as driving.

So far, Maui County has had seven traffic deaths this year; five of those were pedestrians: Segundina Cortez, 56; Brandon Wilson, 22; Abraham Benson, 71; Rebekah Stauffer, 40; and James Mallobox, 41.

All sustained fatal injuries. Each was someone’s son or daughter, perhaps a brother or sister, friend, parent or neighbor. These were preventable tragedies. We pray for them and their loved ones. We mourn their loss.

As you might imagine, a pedestrian’s chance of surviving a collision depends on how fast a vehicle is moving. According to the Active Transportation Alliance, 9 out of 10 people can survive being hit by a vehicle traveling 20 mph. But when a vehicle is going 30 mph, the chance of surviving drops to 5 out of 10, and when the speed rises to 40 mph, chances drop to only 1 of 10 pedestrians surviving.

In the United States, a pedestrian is killed once every 1.5 hours.

Drivers need to watch out for pedestrians, especially in poorly lit conditions, including dawn or dusk, or in rainy weather. Pedestrians may not be walking where they should be. Always stop for pedestrians at a crosswalk, and never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. There may be pedestrians, hidden from view, crossing the street.

Parents and drivers: Always watch out for our keiki. We know they could dart out onto a road or in a parking lot at any time. Pay extra attention to the presence of children near schools, playgrounds and neighborhoods.

Pedestrians share the responsibility for roadway safety. They should be predictable, crossing roads at crosswalks and intersections, for example. They should wear bright, even reflective, clothing when walking at night or during early-morning hours.

They should stay on sidewalks or paths, when available. If pedestrians have no choice but to walk on a road shoulder, they should walk facing traffic. They should stay alert and not get distracted by smartphones, music players or other devices that would take their attention away from what’s happening on the roadway. Don’t assume that a driver sees you. Make eye contact when crossing in front of drivers as they approach or watch for them to slow down. When in doubt, wait until a driver passes.

Don’t walk impaired after taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Pedestrians should use their eyes and ears, listening for hazards such as cars, motorcycles or bicycles.

Returning to the moving vehicle scenario, Sgt. Krau says it’s important to add reaction time to the equation. So, a driver moving at 50 mph takes a couple of seconds to see a text. He looks up and sees a possible collision up ahead.

Then, it takes the average nonimpaired driver 1.5 seconds to perceive and react to a hazard or unexpected roadway condition. That is to recognize a collision is about to occur, move the driver’s foot from the accelerator to the brake and begin to slow or maneuver away from the collision. Impaired drivers take much longer to perceive and react.

So, adding another 1.5 seconds brings the total time to 3.5 seconds, and that means a driver has traveled 256.5 feet before beginning to slow or maneuver. That distance is more than two-thirds the length of a football field.

Please think about that before you take your eyes off the road.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.