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The Podium

The dangers of multi-tasking at the wheel

Massachusetts law enforcement officers face many struggles as they attempt to curb texting while driving. Many times, suspected offenders avoid a fine by claiming they weren’t texting, but instead consulting a GPS device or making a phone call — neither of which is currently banned in our state.

This issue facing our communities is not just about texting, it’s about any and all distractions behind the wheel. Punching an address into a GPS device, checking Facebook on a smart phone while in traffic, or eating a burger and fries while driving 60 miles an hour – they’re all distractions with potentially fatal consequences. In fact, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field, blind. Driving while distracted has become an epidemic, as evidenced by the rising number of rear-end accidents across Massachusetts and the nation. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, although important, legislation and enforcement alone aren’t enough. Changing behaviors has to start with education.

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 800,000 drivers are using a hand-held cell phone at any given moment during the daylight hours, but only about half recognize it as a serious threat to their safety. Arbella Insurance Group wants to tackle this program head on — that’s why our charitable foundation is bringing its Distractology 101 mobile driving simulator tour to towns across New England for a fourth year. We are a local foundation with the ability to educate local teens through this powerful learning tool. Our goal is to make a positive impact in every community — that’s why we visit high schools, so the training is easily accessible to students, benefiting as many new drivers as possible. We believe education, technology, and real life simulations are key to changing behaviors and breaking addictions. Teens are excited to get behind the wheel of our driving simulator console where they see firsthand how distractions can make the difference between being safe and being a statistic.

To date, close to 4,000 new drivers have been through the Distractology training and almost every driver who goes through the program tells us it opened their eyes to the real-life dangers of multitasking at the wheel. It’s our hope that by working together with new drivers, educators, and parents we can once and for all break the addiction that so many drivers have to their mobile phones and create a new generation of safe drivers who don’t think multitasking at the wheel is acceptable.

John Donohue is chairman and president of The Arbella Insurance Foundation.
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