This fall, students at Middlesex Community College (MCC) took to the streets of Bedford, MA, in an effort to curb traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers. Working with the Bedford Police Department, service-learning students in an Introduction to Criminal Justice course spent the semester reviewing accident reports and observing drivers at accident-heavy intersections, tracking activities that keep drivers’ eyes off the road, such as eating, reading, or talking on the phone.
Police noted the need for data-collection manpower after seeing an increase in traffic accidents along one of Bedford’s major roadways. Through MCC’s established service-learning program, students studying criminal justice stepped in to help. After compiling and analyzing the data, students presented their findings and recommendations for improving road safety to the command staff of the Bedford Police Department.
Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno, an MCC alum, said he was grateful for the students’ work. “They provided a tremendous service to the Bedford community, and yielded some very sobering data about the drivers on our roadways,” he said. “I look forward to implementing some of their recommendation as part of a strategic deployment of our resources to address road safety issues in town.”
Students found that distracted driving was widespread, and that cell phone use was the most common culprit. They analyzed national as well as town data in making their recommendations. Findings included:
- While the number of fatalities from distracted driving decreased slightly from 2011 to 2012, injuries from crashes involving driver distraction rose 9%, affecting 421,000 people in 2012.
- Drivers under age 20 are the most likely to be involved in accidents where distracted driving is a factor; 11% of drivers in this age group involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.
- Among distracted drivers aged 15–19 years involved in fatal crashes, cell phone use was the cause of distraction in 21% of cases.
- Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds—at 55 mph, the equivalent of driving blind for the length of a football field.
Recommendations for improving road safety in Bedford focused on two components: increasing enforcement of the 2010 Massachusetts law that restricts use of electronic devices while driving, and launching a high-profile public education campaign. Enforcement recommendations included specific times and locations for surveillance, as well as methods such as deploying plainclothes officers. For the public awareness campaign, students recommended partnering with local businesses and the high school, making use of social media, and using traditional communication tools such as print media and billboards. The town will take students’ results into account in creating a traffic enforcement plan.
For more information, on this project, see http://community.middlesex.mass.edu/blogs/