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Expert says driver distraction is becoming more dangerous in Iowa

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WATERLOO, IOWA (KWWL) -- April is designated as "Distracted Driving Awareness Month" to promote best practices behind the wheel.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Safety, talking, texting,
eating, drinking, adjusting your radio and navigation system, applying makeup, are all examples of distracted driving within the driver's control, but one expert adds something out of the driver's control.

Dr. Daniel McGehee is a Professor of Engineering at the University of Iowa, and he says, "On the rural roads of Iowa, they're not very forgiving. We don't have a big long shoulder, a wide shoulder to drift onto…so the driver will hit a culver, a tree, or a ditch, and that's why driver distraction is so much more dangerous in Iowa."

Dr. McGehee is also the Director of National Advanced Driving Simulation at the University of Iowa. In 2020, he and his team saw a new trend with drivers, due to the reduce in traffic on the highways.

"People are driving faster, and as the saying goes…speed kills," said Dr. McGehee.

The Iowa Department of Transportation also reported 65 fatalities to date due to car crashes, which is why Dr. McGehee is urging everyone to "put the phone away, put it in the glove compartment, put it in your backpack, put it in your purse, just so that it is not tantalizing to look at while you drive."

There is good news though. The auto industry is constantly improving technology in vehicles to intervene with distracted driving. Dr. McGehee has been in the driving simulation industry for 30 years, and he's seeing his work from 25 years ago improve safety in vehicles. He also shares that right now is prime time to buy a car.

"Even the least expensive cars are helping eliminate crashes in some cases or reduce the impact speed, and so now is the time to buy a car with those new technologies out there."

He also says that when it comes to safety culture, there's a huge distinction between a "crash" and an "accident."

"Car crashes are not accidents, so if you're distracted, it's not an accident."

The Iowa Department of Public Safety also says that when you are reading and texting while driving, you are taking your eyes off the road for an about five seconds, which is the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field with your eyes closed, at 55 MPH.

This insight hopefully inspires Iowans to leave all distractions in their rear view mirror.

To learn more about today's car safety features and the work of Dr. McGehee, CLICK HERE to visit the website mycardoeswhat.org.

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Dani Miskell

Weekend Anchor & Reporter

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