City names month to encourage driving safety
Distracted drivers endanger residents, cause 1.6 million car crashes per year
Charlottesville City Fire Chief Charles Werner read a statement from Mayor Satyendra Huja in front of City Hall on the Downtown Mall yesterday morning which called distracted driving a "serious, life-threatening practice that is preventable."
Werner estimated one in five road fatalities resulted from distracted driving, whereas Huja said about 80 percent of all crashes could be attributed to a driver not paying full attention. Huja said distracted driving results in an estimated 1.6 million crashes each year.
"In order to reduce the number of crashes, as well as improve driver safety, Virginia motorists should dedicate themselves to adopting and maintaining safe behavior while behind the wheel," Huja said.
Charlottesville attorney Greg Webb advocates against distracted driving as part of a nationwide campaign of lawyers called "X THA TXT," which was founded in 2009 after a driver reading a text message struck the car of a Pennsylvania lawyer's daughter and killed her. As part of his advocacy, Webb said he speaks at several Charlottesville high schools about the importance of remaining focused while driving.
"More and more people are getting accustomed to [texting] as they drive," Webb said. "Adults are as guilty if not more guilty [than teenagers]."
Werner said the average time a driver's eyes are off the road when reading text messages is nearly five seconds - enough time for a car to clear the length of a football field when traveling at 55 mph.
"We have to change this behavior because there are more and more distractions to take away from our driving," Werner said. "This is every bit as serious as driving under the influence."
Charlottesville resident Patty Grimm yesterday spoke about the effects of being in a head-on collision nearly a year ago while she was driving north on U.S. Route 20.
"My first thought in seeing the impact go through my body was I was not going to survive," Grimm said. "I had to go live with my retired parents ... because I was going to be in a wheelchair for four months and I needed them to take care of me."
Grimm said she did not know with certainty if the other driver had been distracted because he was killed on impact, but the injuries she sustained will likely render her unable to work for the rest of her life.
Grimm told attendees about her experience to prevent other drivers from repeating it. "If [the message] gets through to a few people and they really start to think about how they operate a car ... that would be good enough for me," she said.