Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day

by Ray LaHood
I’d like to thank the folks at KDOT, not just for inviting me to write another blog post, but for making such a strong commitment to road safety through this 20-day run-up to Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day.
Safety is our number one priority at DOT, and events like Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day are a great way to remind everyone of the simple steps they can take to make our roadways safer for everyone who uses them.
Fortunately, people are listening. In 2010, traffic fatalities dropped to the lowest levels since 1949, and that’s in spite of Americans driving 21 billion more miles than they did last year. In the region covering Kansas as well as Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska, fatalities dropped by 2.6% from 2009.
But, as anyone who has lost a loved one in a traffic crash can tell you, any number of fatalities other than zero is too high. If one of the 33,000 people killed on the road last year was one of your friends or family members, then you know all too well that we cannot rest on our laurels.
Other writers on this blog have talked about common-sense ways that you can keep yourself safe while on the road. Candice Breshears and Bill Self talked about the importance of wearing a seat belt. Rick Heinrich talked about not drinking and driving. We’ve tried to echo this with national awareness campaigns like “Click It or Ticket” and “Over the Limit, Under Arrest.”
I’d like to focus on the epidemic of distracted driving. Whether it’s visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel) or cognitive (taking your mind off what you’re doing), distracted driving slows your reflexes and puts you at much greater risk for a crash.
In fact, almost 5,500 people were killed and 500,000 more were injured in distracted driving crashes in 2009. And those aren't just statistics--they're parents, children, neighbors, and friends.
Our ongoing series, “Faces of Distracted Driving,” shares some of their stories. The videos feature families from all across America who have been injured or lost loved ones because a driver was texting or talking on a cell phone behind the wheel. These people are proof that distracted driving can have tragic consequences for entire communities.
But the speakers in these videos don’t just want to share their stories and be done with it. They’re committed to reducing the number of traffic fatalities to as low a number as we can get. Many people--like Amanda Umscheid of Manhattan, Kan.--have used these tragedies as springboards to action, encouraging young drivers to put their devices away, urging their communities to sign pledges, or testifying in state legislatures on behalf of distracted driving bans.
While we've made significant progress on road safety issues over the years, we still have plenty of work ahead of us. That's why we need the dedicated folks who are part of Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day to keep up this terrific effort to remind people to drive as safely as possible on October 10, and every day.

Ray LaHood is the United States Secretary of Transportation.

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