Distracted driving more dangerous than people realize

  • Published
  • By Airman Ashley J. Cass
  • 28th Bomb WIng Public Affairs
Carelessly swinging a cocked and loaded gun around as you nonchalantly gobble down your burger and french fries, apply your eyeliner or text your bud may sound ludicrous, but that is the same type of danger drivers put themselves and others in when they drive while distracted.

Few may realize that while they are behind the wheel, they are in control of a 2,000-poundĀ guided missileĀ capable of inflicting property damage, personal injury and even taking their lives and that of others.

Air Force Instruction 31-218 "Motor Vehicle Traffic Supervision", along with Ellsworth's supplement 31-204, clearly states the regulations for the safe operation of motor vehicles while on base.

"Nearly everyone recognizes the dangers of driving drunk," Tech. Sgt. Shane Christian, 28th Bomb Wing Ground Safety NCO in charge. "Teachers, parents, friends and the media emphasize the danger. While the efforts are vital and need to be sustained, another even more lethal activity requires attention - distracted driving."

Christian helps monitor every facet of safety related to ground operations, including driving.

One of the key elements focused on is cell phone use.

"You can't use any cell phone or any portable electronic device while driving on base," Christian said. "Talking and texting are not permitted, unless the car is parked or you are using a hands-free device."

While it is the law, a recent review of drivers operating vehicles on base revealed the law is being broken.

Brian Peterson, a Black Hills area Star Scout and son of Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Peterson, 28th Maintenance Group superintendent, recently completed a project in order to obtain his Traffic Safety merit badge.

Peterson positioned himself at the intersection of Ellsworth Street and Lemay Boulevard and recorded the instances of distracted driving that he observed in a 30-minute period.

"I saw a lot of families, as well as people in uniform, talking on their cell phones and not using their turn signals," Peterson said. "One person was drinking out of a gallon jug while driving. They couldn't have been able to see around it."

Peterson said the things he witnessed while surveying Ellsworth drivers was disconcerting.

"It was scary, because you never know when somebody could swerve and hit something or someone," Peterson said.

Christian said while the use of a hands-free device is permitted it is not advised.

"Hands-free devices are not completely safe," Christian explained. "However, if you are engaged in another task and not focused on driving, that is dangerous. It's called cognitive distraction. If you're talking while driving a car, the attention you pay to operating the vehicle is cut down by about 50 percent. You can easily miss things like stop signs, or children playing in the street."

Peterson has had a personal experience with distracted driving.

The 14-year-old said while he and his family were living at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., he left his house to take his dog for a walk, and came back with cuts and bruises on his face.

"The doctors think I was hit by a car," Peterson said. "I was walking my dog and she was pulling me along, but then I blacked out. Nobody stopped, I don't know what happened. My mom said my eyes were closed when I came home, and that I looked unconscious."

In addition to causing physical harm, irresponsible driving can result in other "damage." Christian explained that the consequences for being caught talking or texting on a cell phone while behind the wheel include receiving three traffic points on your driver's license, as well as up to one year of suspended driving privileges on base.

"The commander can also require that you take a remedial driving course," Christian said. "It's important to have these restrictions in an AFI in order for them to be enforced. We will continue to work with the 28th Security Forces Squadron to ensure they know what the rules are, and what to look for."

Christian said Ground Safety works to inform Airmen about the rules for safely operating a vehicle.

"We tell Airmen at Right Start briefings and during the First Term Airman Course that cell phones are not to be used while driving," Christian said. "We send monthly bulletins out to Ellsworth Airmen that often address distracted driving."

Christian suggested turning off cell phones or setting up a specific voicemail message when behind the wheel, but said mindsets must also change.

"It's the current culture," Christian commented. "There's no time to stop and pull over. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way people think. And it all begins with everyone realizing just how dangerous distracted driving is before they or someone they love are injured or killed."