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Police: Inattention No. 1 cause of wrecks in county

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By Sarah Bennett

While driving in a part of Hardin County with which you’re unfamiliar, you reach up to adjust your GPS. You only divert your attention away from the road for a few seconds, but according to law enforcement, that’s all it takes for a collision to occur.

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Agencies across the county report driver inattention as the No. 1 cause in traffic collisions.

According to data from Elizabethtown Police Department, inattention played a factor in 755 out of 1,335 collisions last year, accounting for more than half of wrecks in the city.

“Inattention is anything that takes your eyes off the road,” said Virgil Willoughby, EPD spokesman.

“There’s a reason they tell you in driving school to keep both hands on the wheel. Wherever your hands go, your eyes will follow,” he added.

Norman Chaffins, spokesman for Kentucky State Police Post 4 in Elizabethtown, has been a reconstructionist with KSP for 16 years. He said in a majority of collisions, at least one driver was distracted.

Every day, police respond to a wreck during which a car “ran off the right side of the roadway for unknown reasons,” Chaffins said.

“We weren’t in the car with them, so we don’t know what caused them to leave the roadway,” he said. “It had to be a distraction somehow.”

Chaffins said it’s hard for police to be specific with driver inattention because distractions can be anything from eating, adjusting the radio or a GPS, answering a cellphone or an animal or child in the vehicle.

He recalled a fatality he worked during which one driver was eating ice cream.

According to Chaffins, the ice cream fell into the driver’s lap, and he looked down, causing him to swerve into the opposing lane.

When he returned his attention to the roadway, he swerved back into his lane to avoid an oncoming car, but the other driver made the same reaction, Chaffins said. The vehicles collided and one occupant died.

“You just need to stay focused on the roadway,” the trooper said.

In addition to conducting traffic safety checkpoints and increasing police visibility, Chaffins said state police do what they can to educate drivers regarding operator inattention.

“When I go into schools, I always tell the kids, ‘Don’t worry about what happened five minutes before you got into the car. Worry about driving,’” he said.

Additionally, drivers can do their part to drive responsibly and reduce distractions in their vehicles, police said.

Asked if this was a recent trend, law enforcement officers said no. However, they report distractions in vehicles are increasing as technology advances.

“The trend is increasing because there’s more and more things that draw our attention away from the road,” said Bryce Shumate, spokesman for Radcliff Police Department.

Modern drivers are part of a multitasking society, Shumate said, and not only is cellphone technology increasing, but so is technology in vehicles.

“You (have) to think these are not accidents,” he said about collisions caused by distracted driving. “There are very few collisions anymore that are true accidents.”

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.