Kaufman County officials and employees were given a close-up look at the dangers of distracted driving in late June when the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) asked them to participate in a campaign using specialized software and a simulator to demonstrate just how quickly distractions can lead to devastation.
All officials will be introduced to this campaign at the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas Annual State Conference Oct. 7-10 in Galveston, where TxDOT will present a specific class on “Risk Management: Safety Issues & Distracted Driving.” The course will be offered Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 8.
Elected officials participating in the program were Kaufman County District Judge Howard Tygrett, County Judge Bruce Wood, Commissioners Ray Clark and Tom Manning, Sheriff David Byrnes, and Ellis County Commissioner Bill Dodson. Employees from various departments of Kaufman County also took part.
“Even though Kaufman County has a policy for our drivers not to use their cell phones while driving, we also wanted to demonstrate the dangers of texting while on their personal phones,” Clark explained. “The response most received was, ‘I thought that I could do it.’ My personal favorite quote is, ‘Honk if you love Jesus; text if you want to meet Him.’ ”
The software is programmed to create possible distractions and demonstrate how quickly accidents can occur. The front wheels of an automobile are placed on sensors so that the steering, brakes, and accelerator will react to the driver’s actions. The simulated driving is on a laptop placed on the dashboard of the automobile.
As the driver accelerates the speed, pedestrians or other distractions appear on the screen. To demonstrate the dangers of texting while driving, the driver is sent a text. If the driver is unsuccessful at reading or answering the text and continues to drive, the simulator stops and a shattered windshield appears on the computer screen indicating an accident. The shattered screen also appears if the driver hits another object or runs through a stop sign or red light.
“Texting while driving has been shown to be more dangerous than drinking and driving,” Clark emphasized. “No county allows drunken driving, so why would we allow texting?
“Our goal is to not only protect our drivers, but to ensure the safety of our traveling public.”
According to crash data collected by TxDOT to date, in 2012 Texas reported 90,378 crashes that involved distracted driving (distraction, driver inattention or cell phone use), which is an 8 percent increase from 2011. Of these crashes, 18,468 resulted in serious injuries, and 453 resulted in deaths. From 2011 to 2012, TxDOT logged a 9 percent increase in traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving on Texas highways.
“Distracted driving is unacceptable, and it’s something that is preventable,” said TxDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton. “If you reply to or send a text while driving, you are putting your life or someone else’s life at risk.”
As a part of the campaign, TxDOT is asking Texans to do their part by making a simple commitment to focus on driving when they get behind the wheel.H