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Drivers who use cell phones are a hazard on the road

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Logo courtesy of www.distracted.gov

With the national increase in awareness about distracted driving which contributes to a large proportion of road crashes, maybe we should be revisiting our cell phone laws. Currently, Minnesota law allows drivers to use their cell phones while driving, as long as they’re not texting: personally, I don’t think this is sufficient. The government has started a campaign asking drivers who use their cell phone in the car  to "Put it Down" and avoid contributing to avoidable crashes.

The issue cropped up for me thanks to those idiots who like to run red lights. Twice in the same day I had a red light runner and noticed that each twit was also on their cell phone. Great - it’s one thing to have someone trying to kill you gunning through a controlled intersection, but when they’re just too blasé to even notice they’re hoofing through a red, it brings a new level of personal insult to the procedure.

The next time you’re out and about driving, take a look at the person unable to stay in their lane, keep pace with the traffic around them or rides your rear bumper, and nine times out of ten it’ll be some clown on their phone. I’ve often fantasized about having one of those EMP devices attached to my car. You know what I mean? That pulse that renders cell phones in the immediate area useless, or simply jams them for a while. Yeah - heh, heh, that’d be pretty handy.

But let’s get back to reality. Distracted driving, according to the official government website www.distraction.gov, is grouped into three different categories. They are:

Visual – taking your eyes off the road
Manual – taking you hands off the wheel
Cognitive – taking your mind off what you are doing

Texting is considered the most dangerous since it involves all three of these. However the following activities are also considered distracting activities which can contribute to crashes:

Using a cell phone, Eating and drinking, Talking to passengers, Grooming, Reading - including maps, Using a PDA or navigation system, Watching a video, Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player.

It is estimated that nationally 11 percent of all drivers are using some sort of phone during daylight hours, whether it is hand-held or hands-free, which is why it’s at the top of the list. According to 2008 data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in multiple-vehicle crashes, for drivers through age 64, driver inattention or distraction is cited most often.

Additionally 2008 data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, reveals that 40 percent of all crashes occur between 12 and 6pm, with 3 and 6pm the most likely time for fatalities to occur. The commute home is considered a truly hazardous time on the road and if you factor in the use of an electronic device with the dynamic traffic situation, it’s not surprising.

In 2008, there were 141, 756 vehicle related crashes in Minnesota, involving 192, 235 people and costing the state some 1.5 billion dollars. 33,379 were injured, more than 1500 seriously, and 455 were killed. It is estimated that 23 percent of these crashes are caused by distracted drivers.

Several National Occupant Protection Use Survey’s reveal that electronic device use is on the rise in most parts of the country, with women more likely to be using them than male drivers. It’d be great if Minnesota, like New York, Washington, California, Oregon, Connecticut and New Jersey, banned the use of hand held phone use. It isn’t a perfect solution, since it is generally regarded that even hands free systems drain resources away from the act of driving, but it is a step in the right direction.

As a recent ABC news video illustrates, it may take more than just education to modify people’s behavior. According to the article, the government is piloting ways in which it can beef up public awareness and part of this is likely to be harsher penalties for people who flout the law. http://news.yahoo.com/video/us-15749625/19163726

The DPS considers that many “crashes”, as it prefers them to be called, as avoidable. The silver lining is that both in MN and nationally the number of crash fatalities has dropped in 2009. We can’t rest on our laurels though, especially considering that our younger drivers, those under the age of 30, continue to be overly represented in the fatality statistics and are more likely to be using electronic devices. The DPS urges the following: “Driving is a privilege; aggressive driving is not. Buckle up. Drive at safe speeds. Pay attention and never drive impaired.”

Seems like sound advice to me, so go ahead, "Put it Down."

For more info: http://www.distraction.gov/, http://www.mnsafedriving.com/minnesota_crash_stats1.htm, http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2010/dot4610.htm, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811291.PDF, http://www.dps.state.mn.us/OTS/crashdata/2008CFacts/CF08-1-General.pdf

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