MIAMI (CBSMiami) – AAA estimates nearly 43 million Americans are traveling this Memorial Day weekend.
More than 37 million of them are on the highway.
New research shows many of those drivers are profoundly distracted by their phones when they’re rolling past first responders.
The results are increasingly deadly.
16% of drivers say they’ve struck or nearly struck an emergency vehicle or first responder on the side of the road.
21 have been killed so far this year.
That’s on pace to top last year’s number.
A moment captured on camera changed Florida Highway Patrol trooper Mithil Patel’s life last December—he doesn’t remember, but video shows him on the shoulder of Interstate 95 working an accident.
Despite closing a traffic lane as a safety buffer, troopers say a suspected distracted driver lost control.
Patel then throws another man to safety right before being hit by the car.
“It’s a different feeling definitely seeing– where I almost got killed,” said Patel. “So definitely a weird feeling.”
New research from the National Safety Council found 71% of drivers copped to taking photos and texting while driving by emergency workers; that’s nearly triple the 24% who admitted to doing it under normal driving conditions.
60% admitted to posting to social media, two thirds have emailed about what they’re driving by.
40 first responders were killed on the side of the road last year, up 60% from 2017.
And so far this year 21 have died, including 10 police officers. 14 officers were hit and killed in all of 2018.
Patel hopes to be back to full duty and working calls on the side of the road in the coming months.
All 50 states have a ‘move over’ law that requires drivers to give first responders room to work, but police say it’s about 50-50 if people actually do it.
Trooper Patel says bottom line, put down the phone.