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COMMENTARY

According to the most recent data provided by the National Highway Safety Administration, distracted driving accounted for almost 20% of all motor vehicle accidents in the United States in 2008. And, as more students are taking to the streets and walking to and from school every day, accidents caused by distracted drivers involving school-aged children are becoming commonplace in urban, suburban and rural communities throughout the country.

In a report released in September in the American Journal of Public Health, data gathered from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis reveal that auto accident deaths related to cell phone use and texting while driving have increased 28%; from 4,572 deaths in 2005 to 5,870 in 2008. Texting-while-driving has killed an estimated 16,000 people from 2001 through 2007.

Here in New Jersey, A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll conducted earlier this year showed that 21% of New Jersey drivers admitted that they text while driving. That number represents an increase of 15% from 2008 and is indicative of an alarming national trend. Despite a crack down on distracted driving by law enforcement, the trend continues to grow in New Jersey and isn't limited to any particular demographic or geographic region.

The good news about distracted driving is that through education and social awareness, these types of accidents are preventable. As the dangers of distracted driving start to become a subject of national media attention, it is important for parents to shoulder the primary responsibility of educating our kids on this issue — both to be aware of it as pedestrians and to prevent it as future drivers.

Talking to our children about the dangers of distracted driving is equally as important as teaching our children by setting an example. We can't reasonably expect the next generation of drivers, who have more access to mobile electronic devices than the generation before, to concentrate on the road when they see their parents talking or texting while driving.

Some of us have become so accustomed to returning e-mails or sending text messages, that it's going to take a conscious effort to either wait until we reach our destination or to pull over safely on the side of the road to use our hand held device.

Keeping eyes focused on the road and becoming more aware of pedestrians in crosswalks, especially near school zones, will help prevent unnecessary tragedies. New Jersey drivers have the opportunity to make our roadways and our crosswalks safer. Now, with more and more of our kids walking to and from school, there has never been a better time to become a more attentive and responsible driver.

Ed Fernandez is the President and CEO of Palisades, which is a New Jersey car insurance company.
Used with perrmission.

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