Rest areas also designated Safe Phone Zones.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation and a major insurance company have partnered in an attempt to make the interstate highways a little safer.
Geico Insurance is now the official sponsor of the designated Safe Phone Zone in all 58 rest parks in North Carolina. The program is a concerted effort to encourage drivers on interstate highways to use rest areas to make phone calls and send text messages instead risking their lives, the lives of their passengers and the lives of other drivers when going down the highway.
The initiative was announced during a press conference conducted Wednesday at the rest stop on Interstate 40 westbound near Benson.
Chief engineer for NCDOT Tim Little said the department focuses on safety, especially now in the digital age. Prevention is one of the major goals NCDOT has on its docket by discouraging distracted driving.
Mr. Little said there were more than 150 people killed in crashes involving a distracted driver and an additional 25,000 seriously injured.
“We can’t quantify having people come very close to being one of those statistics,” Mr. Little said. “How many times do you see somebody veer and run off the road, come back and everything’s OK?”
He added the hazards coming with distracted driving far outweigh the benefits to the person who is texting while driving.
“Anything that takes your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel or mind off the task of driving is a hazard,” he said. “There’s high concern about the risk of texting because it causes all three types of distractions — visual, manual and cognitive.”
The program includes signage along all the interstates in North Carolina and will also encourage drivers to stop and take a break from driving.
“In addition to helping drivers avoid distracted driving due to cellphones, these Safe Phone Zones will encourage motorists to stop at rest areas and get out for a few minutes,” he said. “It allows them stay more alert once back on the road.”
Along with providing sponsorship for the program, Geico is also providing support to maintain the rest areas scattered around North Carolina.
“What we really talk about with the Safe Phone Zones is how do we get more people using their phones less,” said Geico Regional Vice President John Pham. “When people think about what drives their car insurance rates, one of the things that absolutely has an impact is accidents.”
Mr. Pham said the frequency of accidents has increased not just in North Carolina, but across the country, largely due to distracted driving.
“When you think about the propensity of people using their phones you won’t have to drive far, unfortunately, out of this rest area,” he said. “You will see people on their phones driving upward of 55 miles an hour. This is an epidemic that is causing a lot of problems and is a significant contributor to those over 150 deaths just in this state alone.”
In addition to being a focus of state officials, the partnership is also a product of an initiative of the Federal Highway Administration and a program created by President Donald Trump to join government with private business.
Federal Highway Administration, North Carolina Division Administrator John Sullivan described the program as a way to use federal funds to incentivise private sector involvement in transportation solutions.
“This is one way that we can use non-tax, private sector funds to provide transportation services to the traveling public through the important safety rest area program,” said Mr. Sullivan, who was delayed arriving at the press conference by a distracted driver on I-40. Mr. Sullivan also told those present, the new program is helping to highlight one of the major transportation problems across the country.
He said over 35,000 people are killed on highways across the nation, comparing it to an airline crash every day.
“This really helps us bring awareness to that issue,” he said. “Especially one of the areas of texting while driving. This really helps us bring out those behavioral issues that help us promote sound transportation investments to provide a wonderful service for our traveling public. We want mobility, but more importantly we want people to arrive safely at their destinations.”
For drivers who are trying to decide whether or not to use the rest areas, North Carolina law prohibits texting while driving.
Use of a cellphone for calls is not restricted, but discouraged. There have been several unsuccessful attempts in the legislature to require drivers to use hands-free technology, but none have yet made it to the desk of the governor.
According to NCDOT officials, there is no WiFi service at any of the 58 rest parks, but there is cellular service available. Story and photo courtesy The Daily Record