Distracted driving, caused by the explosion of electronic devices in the hands of drivers, is becoming as big a problem on Texas highways as is drunk driving, and TxDOT is beginning a new public awareness program designed to convince drivers to put down the phone and pay attention to the road, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Called 'Heads Up Texas,' the program is presented in conjunction with AT&T, which is bringing a virtual reality distracted driving experience, which is part of its It Can Wait campaign, to a dozen cities this month.
Michael Chacon, who heads TxDOT's Traffic and Safety Division, says he understands the difficulty of ignoring the bing of a text message or the ring of the phone in today's 'always on' world.
"We fear falling behind, missing out, or detatching from technology for even a second," he said.
The program began in San Antonio, because San Antonio has the worst distracted driving problem of any big city in Texas.
Police Chief Bill McManus sees it all the time.
"When people text and drive, I don't have to tell you, they run red lights, they hit parked cars, they run stop signs, they hit pedestrians, and they cause rear end collisions," he said.
Distracted driving is now responsible for one in every five traffic accidents in Texas, or 95,000 collision in 2018, and was directly responsible for 394 highway deaths last year.
"The problem is that every driver thinks that he or she can drive safely while texting," Chacon said. "They think they can until they learn they can't."
Since November 8, 2000, at elast one person has died on Texas highways every single day, 365 days a year, for the last 19 years.
Among the programs that will be part of 'Heads Up, Texas,' in addition to the virtual reality program, which you can expect to see on college campuses, and at public events like football games, the campaign will include media ads, programs in which Texans can 'take the pledge' to put the phone away or turn it off beefore getting behind the wheel,' and even a promotion in which people are urged to report the most bizarre things they have seen people doing while driving.
McManus was the first to participate.
"I remember seeing a woman on the highway who was knitting," he said. "She had her hands wrapped up in yarn, knitting needles in both hands, and she was knitting while she was driving."