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Commentary

We need practical solutions to distracted driving

With traffic fatalities on the rise nationally, Glendale has a good reason to be especially concerned, given our community’s unfortunate history of high rates of car collisions often involving bicyclists and pedestrians. Public safety should be our No. 1 priority.

That is why I championed last year’s grant request to California’s State Office of Traffic Safety that ultimately brought Glendale $295,000 in state funds for traffic-related safety measures. These funds are already being used to pay for increased traffic-enforcement operations and public education to make our roads safer.

But the grant funding is only a first step. The reality is that our dangers on the road have evolved with technology, and so too must our solutions.

The dependence on cellphones has become such a prevalent part of our society that people are increasingly taking this distraction with them behind the wheel, and putting the public and themselves at serious risk every day. Car crashes caused by distracted drivers already kill thousands of people every year in the United States, while injuring hundreds of thousands more. And the problem is growing. Fatalities caused by distracted driving rose by 9% in 2015 alone.

It’s no coincidence that a primary focus of the Office of Traffic Safety grant is community education and enforcement of laws against distracted driving. Funds are being used to pay overtime for police officers, community service officers, and others to enforce the laws against distracted driving while also educating our community about this growing danger on the roads.

Although the added traffic enforcement operations and public education have been effective in reducing traffic injuries and bringing greater attention to the problem of distracted driving, the temptation to text and drive is still nearly universal among everyday residents. A recent survey found that even though 98% of drivers acknowledge that texting while driving is dangerous, 66% still admit to engaging in that reckless behavior.

Wireless carriers acknowledge that the current laws and education aimed at curbing the behavior are not working. And some have even suggested texting has addictive qualities, making it even more difficult for drivers — especially teenage drivers who may have already been texting for over half their lifetime — to resist the lure of the phone while driving. While popular operating systems such as Google and Apple offer features to block text messaging or provide alternatives to texting like voice assistants, these optional features do not necessarily prevent distracted driving.

My job on the Glendale City Council, first and foremost, is to keep our residents safe. That’s why I won’t give up until we find a smart, sustainable solution to this epidemic in our communities. And if the technology to prevent distracted driving is achievable, we must do everything in our power to make sure that it is implemented. I am calling on the wireless carriers, the automakers, California’s technologists and policymakers to work with our local communities to find a real solution to distracted driving. Together, we can solve this problem and save lives.

Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian can be reached at anajarian@glendaleca.gov

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