More Iowans are getting behind the wheel after many months of doing little driving during the height of the pandemic, and there’s concern they may have forgotten some important rules of the road.

Meredith Mitts, spokeswoman for AAA-Iowa, says distracted driving remains a crucial problem. A federal report blames distractions for 19 fatal crashes in Iowa in 2019.

“It is really hard to record distraction as the main cause of a fatal crash,” Mitts says. “If they happen to look down and change their radio and there was a deer, well, that’s going to be marked down as a deer caused this crash, when in reality, distraction did have a very major point in that.”

The report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds about nine deaths a day nationwide are caused by distracted drivers, and in most cases, a cell phone is to blame.

“Anything that takes your hands off of the wheel, eyes off of the road and mind off of the task of driving is considered a distraction,” Mitts says. “A cell phone, especially one that is in hand, if you are texting or talking, your mind in not on driving, you eyes are not on the road and your hands are off the wheel. That’s a major one.”

Other primary causes of distraction include: in-vehicle technology, eating or drinking, and passengers in the vehicle. “As you are getting back into the swing of things and driving, it’s a great idea, along with everyone else on the road, to be hypervigilant,” Mitts says. “Make sure you always know where the cars are around you, where the pedestrians and bikes are, and do your best to eliminate as many distractions as possible within your vehicle so you can pay attention to what’s going on around you outside of your vehicle.”

A survey by AAA found 96% of drivers agree typing or reading on a hand-held cellphone while driving to be very or extremely dangerous, but 39% admitted to reading and 29% admit to typing on a smartphone at least once while behind the wheel within the past month.

(AAA Iowa photo)