Distracted driving partly to blame for Vermont’s rise in fatal crashes

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There are more than twice as many deaths on Vermont roadways so far this year as there were at this point last year. Distracted driving is partly to blame.

“I’ve learned what can be lost in the blink of an eye,” said Sharon Huntley, who lost her son to distracted driving.

Huntley would be celebrating her son Spencer’s 27th birthday this Friday. But that milestone, and others, were ripped away on the morning of Halloween 2011 as Spencer drove to class on a road in Cavendish that he’d driven on hundreds of times.

“We believe he was changing his music,” Huntley said. “Whatever caught his attention in those few seconds, he drifted over to the other lane and when he looked up he was face to face with a milk truck.”

Spencer died instantly. Now Huntley, Vermont law enforcement and AAA are pleading with Vermonters during Distracted Driving Awareness Month to pay attention because a quick glance can go a long way.

“I always say to people ‘would you go down the road driving and then just close your eyes for 4-5 seconds’ they shake their head and look at me as if I’m absurd,” said Lt. Tara Thomas of Vermont State Police. “That’s exactly what you’re doing every time you look at your phone.”

There have been more than 1600 distracted driving crashes in Vermont in the last 5 years. And they’re not just limited to phone use. Eating, talking with a passenger, or looking at a GPS device can cause them.

“That’s what’s so devastating about distracted driving,” Huntley said. “Before you realize what’s happening, before you realize what a terrible mistake it was, ot can be over that quickly.”

Police say distracted driving is under-reported as a cause, because it’s hard to prove. While it’s also difficult to pinpoint the reason for a spike in deadly crashes, they say many were one-car crashes where the car crossed over into oncoming traffic.

“You’re gonna wonder why these cars left the center,” said Bill Jenkins with the Vermont Highway Safety Department. “I can’t tell you right now why, but I would not be surprised if some of these people were distracted”

Simple efforts, like putting your phone on ‘do not disturb’ before getting behind the wheel, can be life-saving.

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