CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State officials are reminding West Virginia drivers not to answer phone calls or send text messages while behind the wheel of a car.
“It takes about five seconds to read a text message. If you are traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving the length of a football field blindfolded when you’re looking at your phone,” said Amy Cantrell, public information specialist for the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
Cantrell said they’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to launch a campaign aimed at highlighting the dangers and consequences of distracted driving.
April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
Distracted driving crashes are on the rise in recent years, Cantrell said.
“From 2015 to 2019, there have been an average of 258 motor vehicle crashes every year on our roadways. In the same time frame, we have confirmed 70 were had a distracted driver,” she said, adding the numbers could be higher due to under reporting.
Drivers are encouraged to “get back to the basics” by also buckling their seat belts. Cantrell said the best way to avoid picking up the cell phone is to turn off notifications.
“Put on that Do Not Disturb notification and then they know that you’re on the road and they’ll wait until you’re parked safely to be able to respond,” she said.
The campaign comes as more drivers hit the road for summer trips.
“Beyond that, we are expecting higher traffic volumes this year especially after so many events and things like that have been canceled these past couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cantrell said.
The GHSP is supporting West Virginia law enforcement agencies in their efforts to cite distracted drivers, as well as statewide public information efforts with the “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” message.
Cantrell said part of their goal is to remind the public these crashes can be avoided.
“The thing about distracted driving fatalities as well as impaired and speed is that they’re all preventable,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do is prevent someone from dying needlessly on West Virginia roadways.”
The national campaign runs from April 7-11.