It was just a few minutes past two o’clock on an autumn afternoon in Massachusetts. Joseph Pagliarulo, 67, was driving his Chevrolet pickup north on Route 97. He was not texting, talking on the phone, or intoxicated.
But he wasn’t paying enough attention – and suddenly he struck a 74-year-old woman crossing the street in front of him. She was later pronounced dead, and Pagliarulo was charged with motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation, speeding, and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
“It’s just a tragic, senseless loss,” said Robert Kirmelewicz, the police chief. “My heart goes out to the family. This shows us that as drivers, we really need to pay attention. This, in my opinion, was an avoidable accident.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 2009 statistics, nearly 60,000 pedestrians were injured in traffic crashes, with 13,000 of those injured under age 14. Further, more than 4,000 pedestrians were killed in car accidents with 16 percent of the traffic fatalities age 65 and older.
Clearly, accidents involving pedestrians are no respecters of age. That is why NHTSA, law enforcement, and other organizations such as Safe Kids USA are working to install pedestrian safety principles in walkers, bikers, and automobile drivers of all ages through national and local educational programs.
Though safety instruction for pedestrians is a key in fighting preventable accidents, a prime culprit in pedestrian accidents is distracted driving. Statistics from NHTSA indicate 20 percent of crashes in 2009 involved distracted driving, with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers 20 years old and younger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day in the United States, nearly 15 people are killed and another 1,200 are injured due to crashes caused by distracted driving.
As Joseph Pagliarulo and countless others daily demonstrate, distracted driving is synonymous with inattentive driving. If a driver removes his or her eyes from the road, hands from the wheel, or mind from the primary task of driving for an unrelated reason, he or she becomes a distracted driver with the potential to kill.
Though distracting activities can range from changing a radio station to eating a snack to checking a GPS navigational device, a 2010 CDC analysis identified two major, dangerous disruptions that surpass all other distracting activities: talking on a cellular phone and/or texting while driving.
The CDC found that one-fourth of drivers, overall, self-reported regular cell phone use while driving. Only 8% of senior drivers age 60 and above reported frequently talking on a cell phone; but a staggering 40 percent of drivers age 18 to 29 indicated regularly driving while carrying on cell phone conversations.
Responding drivers self-reported less texting while driving than talking while driving. Overall, nine percent of drivers said they text behind the wheel on a frequent basis. However, more than 25 percent of drivers age 18 to 29 report regularly texting or emailing while driving.
Distracted driving heightens the risk of serious injury or death for the driver, passenger(s), and pedestrians who share the roadways. With the increasing trend of distraction-related accidents, a growing number of law enforcement officers, safety program leaders, and government officials believe distracted driving has become a public health concern.
To curb distracted driving practices, many states have passed laws banning the use of cell phones while driving or forbidding texting while driving. Drivers in violation of the laws may be subject to penalties that could include fines or even criminal charges.