William W. Hurst
Law Office of William W. Hurst, LLC
50 S. Meridian St., Suite 600, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Distracted drivers cause most motor vehicle accidents. Studies show that distracted drivers are a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents. Whenever you are driving in a motor vehicle and your attention is not on the road, you are putting yourself, your passengers, other vehicles and pedestrians in danger. In the late 1970’s Indiana University’s “Study of Pre-crash Factors Involved in Traffic Accidents” identified driver inattention as the leading cause of automobile accidents in Indiana. Current research tells us that something between 25% to 50% of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States have driver distraction as the root cause.
There are three main types of distraction: 1) visual – taking your eyes off the road, 2) manual – taking your hands off the wheel and 3) cognitive – taking your mind off what you are doing. While a single distraction can endanger drivers’ safety, texting is the most alarming because it involves all three types of distractions.
Of the people who are killed as a result of distracted driving, 18% of all fatalities involve reports of cell phone use as a distraction. The age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the under 20 age group. Sixteen percent (16%) of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving according to a study by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration. The drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get in serious crashes as reported by the NHTSA.
While cell phones certainly get a lot of negative media attention, other more low-tech distractions cause most traffic accidents. Reports of spilling coffee, dropping something on the floor while driving are two of the distractions drivers cite most frequently as reason for traffic accidents according to a recent study done by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS). Other cited distractions include dialing the radio or working the climate control system. Some motorists even report attempting to read newspapers as a distraction while they are driving.
More than 85% of 100,000,000 cell phone users regularly talk on the phone while driving says a survey by Prevention Magazine. In 1997, a study by the New England Journal of Medicine found drivers who talk on cell phones are four times more likely to be in an accident than drivers who don’t. The National Safety Council has recently reported that 28% of all traffic accidents occur when people are talking on cell phones or texting.
Drivers throughout the country report seeing distracted drivers talk on cell phones as they drift into other lanes and run through red lights and stop signs. Certainly all recent development in cell phone technology including voice-activated dialing and built-in speaker phones help drivers’ concentration on the roadway. Also recent developments have been urged to lessen drivers’ cell phone usage. Since 1995, forty states have proposed bills concerning cellular phone use in cars, but the $40 billion a year cell phone industry has successfully lobbied to keep most of these laws “off the books”. The industry claims that not only are cellular phones safe to use while driving, but cell phones help drivers by allowing them to quickly report emergencies such as accidents and car jacking. These proposed laws are in flux.
The vast majority of these crashes (1.4 million annually) are caused by use of cell phones in conversations with about 200,000 blamed on texting according to a report from the National Safety Council. Because of the extent of this problem, Federal transportation officials have unveiled an organization patterned after Mothers Against Drunk Drivers that will combat driver cell phone use. The group (“Focus Driven”) grew out of a meeting on distracted driving sponsored by the United States Department of Transportation last year. This organization will promote laws banning cell phone usage. Currently nineteen states are reported to have banned text messaging while driving; however, in four of those states, laws require that a police officer have some other primary reason for stopping a vehicle. This obviously makes it near impossible for police to enforce this law effectively. President Obama last year imposed a text ban on all federal employees while using government vehicles or using government issued phones in their own vehicle. In Indiana, a ban on texting while driving took effect July 1st. A Butler University (Indianapolis) psychology professor has indicated that texting has become so ingrained that it is almost an addiction and the prospect of a fine up to $100 may only just make people try to hide what they are doing but not prevent it. The professor states that she believes that this could just make the safety concerns even worse.
In addition to “Focus Driven” many other organizations have recently begun lobbying for cell phone probation laws. For example, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Nationwide Insurance states they will educate people about the risk of cell phone use while driving to create public support for laws and changing behavior to reduce crashes.
It is believed law enforcement can be useful to a degree in banning specific acts but banning specific actions is not the best preventive medicine. The National Motorists Association believes that distracted driving in all forms can best be addressed through efforts to educate of its dangers. Reinvesting public resources into educational public relation efforts focused on inattentive driving would be far more productive use of these funds.
One may ask, “Are driving distractions really as dangerous as the research has claimed they are?” For five real life examples of distracted drivers getting into very serious accidents. These examples range from a person looking at a Blackberry navigation to a train engineer texting while operating a train. For example, in February 2011, an 18-year old driver was speeding and struck and killed two people and seriously injured a child in an accident in North Carolina. This teenager was arrested at the scene and charged with “misdemeanor death”. The child was being pushed in a stroller by his grandfather or mother when the crash occurred killing both the grandfather, the mother and critically injuring the child. The distracted driver claims that she was reaching for her cell phone and took her eyes off the road. This accident serves as a reminder of how easy it is to lose concentration when behind the wheel and how serious the results for doing that can be.
Scientists/researchers at the Temple University, state that while everyone knows distracted driving is dangerous, there is evidence that driver use of mobile devices is recently increasing. The research finds there is a widening gap between the evidence of distracted driving and the laws being passed to address the problem. The purpose of the Temple University study is a first step towards understanding which laws really “could or may” reduce distracted driving, and thus reduce related crashes and associated injuries and fatalities. This Temple University study looked at enforcement and penalties of violations of the laws which vary from State to State as of November, 2010, which includes 39 states plus Washington, D.C.
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