During National Distracted Driving Month in April, our trauma team is sharing tips you can use all year long to make our roadways safer.

Car accidents are the number one cause of injuries treated at our Elvis Presley Trauma Center, and distracted drivers play a role in many of those crashes.

Keep yourself, your loved ones, and your community safe by avoiding cellphone use, eating and drinking, and other distractions when behind the wheel.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, bringing recognition to a behavior that is entirely preventable yet continues to be a deadly epidemic on our roadways.

Regional One Health’s trauma experts see the tragic results of distracted driving all the time – motor vehicle crash injuries were the most common type of injury treated last year at our Elvis Presley Trauma Center, accounting for 2,229 patients.

With that in mind, they are reaching out to educate motorists about how to protect themselves, their loved ones, and others on the roadways.

“Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving,” said Geretta Hollins, Community Outreach and Injury Prevention Program Coordinator for Burn and Trauma Services. “That includes talking, texting, or searching social media on your phone; eating and drinking; talking to people in your vehicle; fiddling with the radio, entertainment or navigation system – anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”

These activities create a significant danger to everyone on the roadways, Hollins said.

In the United States in 2022, 3,308 people were killed and an estimated additional 289,310 were injured in traffic crashes involving distracted drivers.  Five percent of all drivers involved in fatal traffic crashes in 2022 were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes.

“If you aren’t giving driving your full attention, you aren’t driving safely,” Hollins said. “When you’re behind the wheel, anything you do that isn’t related to driving can increase your risk of getting in an accident because you’re robbing yourself of the time and awareness you may need to avoid a close call or deadly crash.”

Car accidents are the leading cause of injury among patients at the Elvis Presley Trauma Center, and distracted driving plays a role in a large number of those crashes.

Cell phone use is the most common distraction, Hollins said. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds – and at 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

Therefore, police will be watching for cellphone use during National Distracted Driving Month.

From April 4 through 8, Hollins said, many communities plan increased law enforcement on the roadways as part of the national “Put the Phone Away or Pay” campaign, which reminds drivers of the deadly dangers and the legal consequences – including fines – of texting behind the wheel.

In Tennessee, the “hands-free law” makes it a misdemeanor for any driver to do the following:

  • Hold a cellphone or mobile device with any part of their body
  • Write, send or read any text-based communication
  • Reach for a cellphone or mobile device in a manner that requires the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position or properly restrained by a seat belt
  • Watch a video or movie on a cellphone or mobile device
  • Record or broadcast video on a cellphone or mobile device

Penalties include $50 fines for first-time offenders, $100 fines for third-time or more offenders and those who cause a crash, and $200 fines when the offense occurs in a work zone with workers present or a school zone while flashers are operating.

If you need to send or read a text, first pull over to a safe location. You can also avoid distractions by putting your phone away while driving and designating a passenger to respond to texts.

Fortunately, Hollins said, everyone has the ability to avoid distracted driving. She offered the following tips and urged drivers to do the right thing behind the wheel:

  • Do not speed. Obey the speed limit, and move over if you’re driving slowly in the fast lane.
  • If you need to send a text, pull over and park your car in a safe location.
  • Designate your passenger as your “designated texter” to respond to calls or messages.
  • Do not scroll through apps while driving. If you’re struggling not to text and drive, put the cellphone in the trunk, glove box, or back seat of the vehicle until you arrive at your destination.
  • Remind your friends and family: If you’re in the driver’s seat, driving is the only thing you should be doing.
  • If your driver is texting or otherwise distracted, tell them to stop and focus on the road.

Along with reaching out to the public during Distracted Driving Month, Hollins provides Distracted Driving and Violence Prevention sessions in partnership with Tennessee Highway Patrol officers at area high schools. For more, email [email protected].

The Elvis Presley Trauma Center is the only Level-1 Trauma Center in a 150-mile radius of Memphis. A multispecialty team of experts is available 24/7 to treat the most critically injured patients from Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and parts of Missouri.

The Firefighters Burn Center is the only full-service burn center in 400 miles of Memphis that is verified by the American Burn Association. It provides comprehensive care including emergency and critical care, intensive care, specialized burn rehabilitation, and laser and plastic surgery.

Learn more about our burn and trauma services at www.regionalonehealth.org/firefighters-burn-center/ and www.regionalonehealth.org/main-campus/regional-medical-center/elvis-presley-trauma-center/