Archive for Thursday, October 1, 2009

Distracted driving an ‘epidemic’

October 1, 2009


— Driving while distracted is a growing peril in a nation reluctant to put down its cell phones and handheld devices even behind the wheel, the Obama administration declared on Wednesday. Officials said Congress and the public must team up to reduce the danger.

Opening a two-day meeting to find ways to reduce drivers’ use of mobile devices, the Transportation Department reported that nearly 6,000 people were killed and a half-million were injured last year in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction. That includes drivers talking on cell phones and texting.

“To put it plainly, distracted driving is a menace to society,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “Distracted driving is an epidemic, and it seems to be getting worse every year.”

The meeting gathered experts to examine the potentially deadly mix of driving with cell phones, mobile devices, and other distractions that divert attention from the road. LaHood said he would offer recommendations today that could lead to new restrictions on the use of the devices behind the wheel.

While the meeting focused on drivers using cell phones and mobile devices, participants noted that distractions could include reaching into the back seat, applying makeup or eating.

“I have nightmares about the last moments of my mother’s life,” said Greg Zaffke of Chicago, whose mother, Anita, was killed in May when a vehicle rear-ended her motorcycle at 50 mph. The driver had been painting her fingernails at the time of the crash.

Congress is watching the issue closely. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and other Democrats are pushing legislation that would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.

“We need every state to put safety first,” Schumer told participants.

LaHood said the government would draw lessons from past efforts to reduce drunken driving and encourage motorists to wear seat belts, urging a “combination of strong laws, tough enforcement and ongoing public education.”

The government reported that 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured last year in crashes where at least one form of driver distraction was reported. Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 and prevalent among many young drivers.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal and seven states and the District have banned driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Many safety groups have urged a nationwide ban on texting and on using hand-held mobile devices while behind the wheel.

Researchers grappled with the question of whether using a hands-free device was safer than using a hand-held phone behind the wheel. One researcher cautioned that hands-free devices could still cause distractions if the driver needed to dial the phone or handle the device.

“I think it’s important that we recognize that hands-free is not risk-free,” said Dr. John Lee, a University of Wisconsin researcher.


George_Braziller 8 years, 3 months ago

Just this afternoon I was driving west on K-10. A young woman driving a Lexus was entering from an off-ramp on the north. I was driving 70 and so was she when she "merged" with the on-coming traffic without even looking and then crossed the center line when we met at the connection point. I had to gun it to keep her from hitting me.

She was too busy talking on her cell phone to realize she wasn't only vehicle on the road.

igby 8 years, 3 months ago

Cell phone companies are to blame for this problem. They make the devices so small and difficult too use while driving.

Touch screen phones are hard to see and much to touchy for driving distractions.

The older phones are much safer because you can feel the key pad to make a call or receive a call. Driving while Text'in is just stupid. Talking while talking on the phone is distracting but can be done with practice. Text'in and driving is just stupid.

George_Braziller 8 years, 3 months ago

Unless one is on their way to transplant a heart and is in touch with the hospital there is absolutely no reason someone needs to be yacking on a cell phone while driving.

"Talking while talking on the phone is distracting but can be done with practice."

I'm sure that this woman also thought that she had "practice."

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