It’s the time of year to end unsafe driving practices

 

The woman cradled a toddler and thumbed a text on her cellphone while trying to steer her car one-handedly over a winding road.

She zigzagged, then crashed through a fence into a pasture, flipping the car.

Thankfully, the only casualty was a cow.

“I could have died,” said Emily Schafer, protectively clutching her 20-month-old son, David.

Only if she were in a real car. Schafer, along with her husband, David, was playing MarioKart Wii at Voorhees Town Center. The interactive game, provided courtesy of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, was part of a demonstration meant to illustrate the challenges of driving while distracted, particularly at this time of year.

“Distracted driving is a year-round problem,” agency Chairman Raymond P. Martinez said in a statement. “Now factor in the added stresses of the holidays, when people have to tackle their holiday to-do lists, and the season is ripe for tragedy.”

The Schafers found that out when they took turns in the driving-simulation game. While Emily Schafer juggled steering, texting, and managing a child, David donned vision-impairing goggles, which create the effect of having one to two drinks, well under the amount that would have him in violation of New Jersey’s drunken-driving law.

For someone who says he never drinks and drives, he did surprisingly well with a few (simulated) cocktails in him. Until the end.

“Am I going the wrong way?” he asked his wife before crashing into a fence. Uh, yes.

Even though it was a game, the commission wanted to show shoppers how easy it is to become distracted behind the wheel, spokeswoman Elyse Coffey said.

“Every time you turn on the radio, it’s a distraction. Every time you fix a piece of hair in the mirror, it’s a distraction. Add in the holidays and all the things you have to do, and it’s a recipe for disaster,” she said.

About 5,400 people in the country die each year in accidents caused by distracted driving, whether that’s eating between meetings or putting on makeup on the drive to the office, Martinez said – but for most, it’s using their phones.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, nearly one in every 100 cars on the road is being driven by someone who is texting, e-mailing, surfing the Web, or using a handheld device for something else.

In New Jersey, there were 1,404 crashes related to cellphone use last year – 70 in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties. Using a handheld device to talk or text while driving is banned in the state and carries a $100 fine.

As for alcohol and driving, even if it’s only one or two drinks, forget about it.

The state has ramped up sobriety checkpoints, with 400 law enforcement agencies making random stops and conducting increased patrols through Jan. 2.

“If we see you swerving,” State Trooper Jay Wolf said, “you can still get a summons even though you’re below the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08.”
 
 

1SafeDriver.com New Jersey Driver Safety

 
 

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