Distracted driving

Brian WilkinsonJanuary 31, 2013 

The California Highway Patrol is urging teenage drivers to stop texting, put away cell phones, and focus on driving.

According to the CHP, 80% of vehicle crashes in California involve some kind of driver distraction and talking or texting on a cell phone is the No. 1 source of such distractions.

Distracted driving is a serious safety concern for all drivers throughout California, especially teen drivers. Th CHP reports that for 2010, the most recent year for finalized data, there were more than 57,000 drivers between the age of 16 and 19 involved in collisions in the state and a teen driver was determined to be at fault in 67% of those collisions.

In the Mountain Area, officers with the Oakhurst Area Office of the CHP issued 66 citations in six months (June 1 - Dec. 31, 2012) for talking on a cell phone while driving and two citations for texting on a cell phone while driving. In addition, officers issued 11 verbal warnings for texting while driving and 19 verbal warnings for talking on a cell phone while driving.

"Everyone, including teens, need to realize that talking or texting on a cell phone is not worth their life, or killing someone else," said CHP officer Scott Gentry. "Our Mountain Area roadways are not as forgiving as roadways in the Valley," Gentry said. "When you go off the roadway around here, chances are you are either going to hit a granite wall or are going to go over a cliff."

Gentry, a 17-year CHP veteran, said it can take just seconds to be distracted.

"Even just changing the station on the radio can cause a driver to be distracted, causing them to leave the roadway or cross the center line and hitting another driver head-on."

In an effort save lives, the CHP, along with Impact Teen Drivers, will be conducting a year-long Teen Distracted Driving safety campaign through September 2013.

"The California Office of Traffic Safety grant is an exciting opportunity for Impact Teen Drivers and the CHP to continue to be at the forefront of decreasing the number of collisions and deaths associated with distracted teen drivers," said Kelly Browning, executive director of Impact Teen Drivers. "It will take a strong combination of education and enforcement to have a fundamental and sustained behavior shift toward driving distraction free."

One of the leading contributors to collisions

Teenage distracted driving is one of the leading contributors to collisions and near collisions.

California drivers age 20 years or older were involved in nearly 22,000 collisions from Oct.1, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2010, in which a distraction was documented as a factor in the cause of the crash. As new drivers, teens are at an even greater risk of being involved in collisions due to distracted driving because of the peer pressures to stay immediately connected to their friends via text and cell phone.

"The CHP is urging teen drivers to focus on driving -- eliminate the urge to text or call by putting away the distractions," said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. "Through education, enforcement and the continued partnership between the CHP and Impact Teen Drivers, we can change this dangerous behavior."

The 12-month, grant-funded Teen Distracted Drivers Education and Enforcement II campaign consists of an education component, as well as distracted driver enforcement operations to be conducted throughout the state.

Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"Start Smart" class

Designed for newly licensed teen drivers and their parents, the Oakhurst Area CHP office, will offer "Start Smart," a two-hour driver education class in the spring. The free program is an interactive class for teens that illustrates the critical responsibilities of safe driving. Details will be available closer to spring by calling (559) 683-6565.

Driving under the influence also a concern of CHP

Nearly 1,000 lives are lost in California every year at the hands of an impaired driver and Gentry urges all drives to think twice before operating a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

In the seven months between June 1 and Dec. 31, 2012, Oakhurst area officers arrested 163 drivers for suspicion of DUI (five per week average).

In an effort to save lives and reduce the number of people who suffer injuries in alcohol-related collisions, the CHP is engaged in a grant-funded effort to deter drivers from making the poor decision to drink and drive, which includes occasional DUI check-points. A check-point was held in Oakhurst on June 30. Nine drivers of the 542 vehicles stopped,were given field sobriety tests. None were arrested for DUI.

California has seen a reduction in the number of alcohol-involved collisions year after year. According to CHP data. In 2009 there were 1,146 people killed in alcohol-involved collisions. The following year, in 2010, there were 972 people killed, which represents a 15% decrease. Preliminary data for 2011 shows that encouraging downward trend is continuing.

"By far the majority of drivers make the responsible decision and refrain from driving under the influence," said Gentry.

But driving under the influence is still a concern of CHP officers and Madera County Sheriff deputies as DUI-caused accidents continue to take place in the Mountain Area.

A head-on collision on Crane Valley Road (426) near Elliott Drive Aug. 31 sent one adult and three children to the hospital when a van driven by 44-year-old Oakhurst woman crossed the center line and hit head-on a 61-year-old North Fork woman who had her eight and 12-year-old grandchildren in the car with her. The mother driving the van was arrested for suspicion of felony DUI and child endangerment.

Another mother driving with her one-year-old child in the car was arrested for suspicion of felony DUI and child endangerment on Oct. 30, when the Clovis woman allowed her vehicle to cross the center line on Highway 41 near Mecca Lane. Her Honda CRX collided into a pick-up truck driven by a Clovis 21-year-old man and his 18-year-old brother.

Both the woman and her child were removed from the vehicle with the Jaws of Life. The child escaped serious injury and the mother suffered serious injuries. The two men escaped with moderate injuries.

Dr. John McBride, 65, who has served the Mountain Area community for 15 yearsis in a Fresno hospital in serious condition after being hit head-on by a suspected drunk driver at about 8:20 p.m. Jan. 20 on Highway 41, about a mile north of Yosemite Springs Parkway.

The 52-year-old Los Banos woman hit McBride's Porsche after she allowed her car to drift across the center line due to her high level of intoxication according to the CHP. She received minor injuries and fled the accident scene on foot and attempted to hide off the roadway when she was apprehended by a CHP officer. She was arrested for felony DUI and hit and run.

It was reported that an unidentified off-duty paramedic was the first on the scene and probably saved McBride's life by clearing his airway.

And just two days after that accident, a 32-year-old paramedic who lives in Coarsegold was arrested by the CHP for felony DUI following a head-on accident on Road 415 near Trabuco Road at about 6:30 p.m. He crossed the center line, striking a 26-year-old man from Hilmar. Both drivers were pinned in their vehicles and it took first responders an hour to free the Hilmar man who suffered a broken leg.

The Coarsegold man suffered head and internal injuries and was listed in critical condition following the crash.

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