One text or call could wreck it all

Image courtesy of the U.S. DOT.

A new poll by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds that at any moment during daylight hours, 660,000 Americans are distracted while driving because they are using cellphones or other electronic devices, as Ravi Somaiya writes for The New York Times blog Wheels.

Ronald D. White, of Tribune Newspapers, writes in the Chicago Tribune blog, CARS:

That’s greater than the entire population of Baltimore.

‘Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America’s roadways,’ said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose agency released the survey results near the start of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

‘There is no way to text and drive safely,’ LaHood said. ‘Powering down your cellphone when you’re behind the wheel can save lives — maybe even your own.’

The survey finds that the number of Americans using cellphones or other electronic devices has stayed the same from 2010 to 2012, Jimmy Orr writes for the Los Angeles Times’s L.A. NOW. Orr asks if enforcement can actually work, and writes that Jeff Larson, president of the Safe Road Alliance, says the survey’s results show that this problem is tougher to solve than other campaigns. He says the solution is to have more-uniform laws throughout the country, to make violators easier to spot.

Uniform laws “would let the police know that if drivers are holding a phone in their hand and manipulating, it they are breaking the law,” he said.

The survey is based on statistics from the 2012 Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors Survey, the 2011 National Occupant Protection Use Survey on Driver Electronics Use, and the 2011 Distraction Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, as an NHTSA press release says. Other NHTSA data shows that more than 3,300 people were killed in 2011 and 387,000 were injured in car accidents involving a distracted driver.

Distracted driving has not decreased since 2010, despite the fact that 39 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands have texting bans for all drivers, and that nine states, the D. of C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands prohibiting all drivers from using handheld phones while driving, writes White. Larson told White that reducing distracted driving could be more difficult than getting people to wear seat belts, or to stop drinking and driving.

In a comment to The New York Times piece, someone named “RC” from Minnesota writes:

Cell phones are not the only source of distraction. Many newer vehicles have built-in touchscreens, that often are complex and inscrutable. Simple functions that may need to be performed while driving can require scrolling through confusing and hard-to-see screen displays. The potential for accidents due to the distraction of using these screens as control knobs seems real and should be investigated, particularly since touchscreens are unnecessary for the function of an automobile.

And a commenter named “Michael” from Bloomington, Indiana, writes:

If a traffic cop were to simply stand on the side of the road and watch as cars go by, (s)he would see drivers talking on the phone and texting. Stepping up enforcement might help considerably.

To prevent distracted driving, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommends that drivers:

  • Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.
  • Be good role models for young drivers and set a good example. Talk with your teens about responsible driving.
  • Speak up when you are a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving. Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against other unsafe drivers.
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