Doug Osborne

Everyday virtually every resident in Sitka uses our streets and sidewalks. Ideally these publicly funded, shared roads would be safe for everyone. They are not as safe as they could be, because we have way too many distracted drivers

Distracted driving is a big problem in our community and in our country.

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In 2013 alone, 3,154 people were killed and over 400,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. Many times these tragedies happened because the driver’s attention was on a phone call.

A Researcher from the University of Utah named David Strayer found that talking on a cell phone while driving quadruples your risk of a crash, which he reported to be the same as if you were driving drunk. So the next time you see someone with a phone up to the ear while they are operating a multi-ton vehicle, be careful! That person is driving at the same level of impairment as someone with a .08 blood alcohol level.

People understand that drunk driving is dangerous. Now we need to get real with distracted driving. It can be just as bad, or even worse.

In 2009 the TV show Myth Busters did an experiment. They had two people get graded while driving in controlled, skills course. Then the drivers did the same course, only this time they were simultaneously talking on the phone while operating their vehicle. For the third and final round they did the course after drinking on an empty stomach.

The two drivers failed the course while talking on the phone and while driving under the influence of alcohol, however they did worse when talking on the phone. They knocked over more cones and they got poorer scores when they were driving while talking on a cell phone. It’s dangerous, and it happens every day in our town. In a survey of Sitka motorists last year 21% of drivers had one hand off the wheel and on something else, usually a cell phone. This is a significant concern because the human brain is not wired to do two things at the same. That is not an opinion, that’s a fact.

The distracted brain gets overloaded and misses things. Reaction times are less — even a person’s field of vision is reduced, in a dynamic referred to as inattention blindness.

Now, Distracted driving doesn’t just happen, it’s a choice. And we can make the choice to look our for our neighbors and can make the choice to make Sitka safer for every user, including our most vulnerable roadway user.

A local group of Girl Scouts made the choice to make our streets safer. They’re collecting stories of experiences near the Peterson Street crosswalk, with the hope of making that crosswalk better. I’d like to share one those stories an eyewitness told me recently. Two teenagers were at the crosswalk. A car came to a complete stop before the crosswalk. When the pair started to walk across, a second car operated by someone who was talking on a phone rear-ended the first car causing the lead vehicle to lurch forward and smash into the girls.

If the girls had gotten seriously hurt or killed I know that this town would have rallied to support their families, we’d have fundraisers and put massive amounts of energy into reacting to this tragedy.

The question I have is can we, as a town, put a fraction of that energy into preventing a tragedy like this before it happens. Before it happens. All of the problems with distracted driving are 100% preventable and you play a major part in helping us to make a better environment for motorists, walkers, bikers, everyone. Please consider driving phone and distraction free.

Together we are going to make Sitka safer to everyone. We are going to make Sitka more pedestrian friendly. We are going to make Sitka more bicycle friendly. We are going to make Sitka more kid friendly. We are going to make Sitka more people friendly.

Thank you for being part of the solution.
Doug Osborne