Driver, Keep Your Eyes on the Road, Hands Behind the Wheel

FROM THE WEBMD ARCHIVES

Patricia Pena is well aware of the dangers that a cell phone can pose to a motorist who doesn’t pay attention. Patricia Pena’s 2-year-old daughter Morgan was tragically killed in a car accident more than a year back. The driver was on his cellphone when he ran a stop sign at 40 mph.

“Days later, the district attorney called to inform me that he couldn’t do anything. … It is legal to use a cellphone while driving. Pena testified tearfully before a House committee on Wednesday that the driver received only two traffic tickets and a $50 penalty.

Pena also informed the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit she had since established the Advocates for Cell Phone Safety Group in order to educate people about the dangers of inappropriate wireless phone usage. Although panel members were sympathetic, there was not consensus on the magnitude of the problem or any possible solutions.

“It is my belief cell phone use while driving increases crash risks and adversely affects drivers performance.” … It is something we can’t afford to ignore,” stated Rep. Robert Borski (D.Pa.).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 110 million Americans have cell phones. Half of them have the device in their car.

This is just one part of a complicated puzzle that the driver must solve. The automobile of today is quickly becoming like the Starship Enterprise bridge, complete with onboard navigation systems and computers for downloading email.

According to a recent NHTSA survey, distractions of any kind are responsible for up to 30% of all accident deaths. It was estimated that 1.5 million of the 6.5 million accidents last year were caused by distracted drivers.

It is now up to you to figure out where cell phones are included in this picture. Currently, data is collected by only 20 states, with no standard reporting.

“We are certainly encouraging the states to collect this data. Bob Shelton, Administrator of NHTSA, tells WebMD that we haven’t yet decided if we need a requirement.

According to an analysis by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, cell phones were ranked lower than other distractions for drivers in an American Automobile Association study.

An outside object, for example, was the leading cause of death in motorists at 29.4%. Other attention-grabbing factors included radios, other vehicle occupants and eating or drinking. Cell phones were next at less than 1%.

Advocates for Cell Phone Safety Group says that using a mobile phone in a car increases crash risk by 34%-300%. Wireless phone supporters claim that there are 110 million people who make emergency calls every day asking for help.

The President of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, (CTIA), told the House Committee that his organization is running a public awareness campaign using paid TV and radio spots to highlight the dos and don’ts of cellular communications.

Never look up numbers or take notes.

Avoid using your cell phone when there is heavy traffic or in hazardous conditions.

Keep your calls short.

To place calls, use a hands-free device.

Many lawmakers shared their personal stories of how they tried to keep the car moving despite distractions such as cell phones and babies in the backseat. However, there was a general reluctance at the moment to impose any new laws.

Rep. James Oberstar (R.Minn.), especially when it comes emergency calls, says that “Regulating speech is sticky”. There are also questions about trying to enforce new cell phone restrictions.

Although 39 states have made similar laws over the past five years, none of them have been passed. Approximately one dozen cities have banned cell phone use behind the wheel.

Representatives from large Western states don’t like this approach. Representative Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont) says, “Those of us who represent rural America, with, as a consequence, large expanses open highways… we don’t always wish to have to try to follow… categories created for us by the east side of Potomac.”

A solution could be to ban the use of mobile phones in cars, as they are more dangerous than the ones built into the vehicle. Thomas Dingus is the director of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. He says that Japan and other countries have passed laws banning hand-held phone use in vehicles.

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Updated 01/24/22