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Lehigh Valley Hospital Takes Aim At Distracted Driving

ER doctors started a campaign against cell phone use while driving in an effort to save lives. A billboard in South Whitehall spreads the message.

Lehigh Valley Hospital Takes Aim At Distracted Driving

Dr. Bryan Kane, an emergency medicine physician at -Cedar Crest, works nights in the regional trauma center's busy emergency room.  He's hoping for one shift with no traffic accident victims, but so far that hasn't happened.

Some of the injured and dying Kane treats are the victims of distracted driving - talking or texting on a cell phone or engaging in other activities that take the driver's attention away from the road. 

And it is a growing problem.

So Kane and two other emergency room colleagues,  Drs.  Gavin Barr and Robert Barraco, decided to try to do something to prevent the needless deaths and injuries that are happening from distracted driving. With the physicians' help, Lehigh Valley Health Network created a new public awareness campaign.

The campaign is getting people's attention on the highways they drive through the use of dramatic billboards,  yard signs, car magnets and radio ads. The message on billboards - there are two huge ones on Route 22 on east - and westbound sides of the highway in South Whitehall and Whitehall - is simple but effective. "Stop Texting" and "Dead End, Don't Text and Drive"  stand out against an uncluttered background.

"To date, we've distributed 10,500 magnets and close to 500 lawn signs," said Laura Harner, marketing manager for Lehigh Valley Health Network.

The distracted driving campaign has obviously hit a nerve.

"The community response has been absolutely overwhelming, unlike any campaign we've done in recent years,"  Harner said.

The statistics are alarming.  Nationally, nearly 6,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver and more than 500,000 were injured in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A recent Lehigh Valley Health Network study of distracted driving at four Pennsylvania and New Jersey high schools found that more than one-third of teenagers in the study said they drive while distracted, with cell phone use among the top distractions.

"The most dangerous driver is the 16-year-old driver, because they are more likely to take risks," Kane said.

About 3,000 teens between the ages of 15-19 were killed in motor-vehicle accidents and more than 350,000 were treated for injuries in emergency rooms in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk of crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than any other age group, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"The most dangerous thing for a teen is other teens in a car,"  said Kane, adding that it's more dangerous than driving intoxicated.

Hundreds of local individuals and companies including Lutron, Coca-Cola and Olympus have called Lehigh Valley Hospital to ask how they could get involved in the campaign. Many high schools, including , , Emmaus, Catasauqua, Northampton, William Allen, Brandywine, Pocono Mountain East, Liberty and Jim Thorpe, have requested the hospital's trauma and emergency medicine team to talk to their schools about the problem of distracted driving.   

The LVHN study found education is an effective way to combat the problem. After students in 10th through 12th grades were informed of the dangers of distracted driving, cell phone use decreased by 74 percent.

While several area municipalities, including Allentown and Bethlehem,  have passed ordinances prohibiting the hand-held use of cell phones while driving,  it is still legal in South Whitehall Township.

Want to learn more? Go to www.celllimit0.com, the official LVHN site of the campaign. You'll find statistics that make the argument for keeping the cell phone out of the driver's seat. Example: Texting while driving makes having an accident eight times more likely.

Also:

  • How to spread the word about distracted driving via Facebook and Twitter.
  • First-hand accounts of distracted driving dangers and near misses from area residents.
  • A free Smart Phone application that lets a texter know you're driving and will respond when it's safer to do so.
  • How to get a "stop texting" magnet for your car, or lawn sign for your lawn.
  • You can also get information by calling 610-402-CARE.



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