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Phones, texts, GPS, computers add to distracted driving

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Can you imagine any driver anywhere who think nothing of picking up a cell or smart phone in front of a police officer and dial a number and then start talking, all the while ignoring the fact that the policeman is there?

It happens daily on the roads around here and drivers think it's perfectly okay to do it. Well, believe it or not, they are taking part in what seems to be the world's newest participation sport, distracted driving.

Think nothing wrong with it

And, they think there's nothing wrong with it. These drivers think it's their right to pull into parking lots with smart phones glued to their ears talking away and swerving around pedestrians who just happen to get in their way. If you were to ask them if what they are going is okay, as has been done during informal surveys, there are only two responses:

1. The driver just glares at you.
2. The driver just ignores you.

Studies by the American Automobile Assn., Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Safety Council show the same results. Cellphones or smart phones are just distractions that take drivers attention away from the roadway where they should be concentrating. Drivers, though, take it as their right to use these devices as they please.

People just ignore the dangers they pose. The studies have shown the cellphone or smart phone use is the same as driving with a blood alcohol level of .8. In most states, that level is enough to get you time in a holding cell as you await a court date the next day (unless you make bail but you still have to visit the judge).

Poor judgment 101

If there were a school class to handle this type of behavior it would probably have the name “Poor Judgment 101,” though the drivers who do this sort of thing actually believe there is nothing wrong with it.

They are totally wrong, but they think they are right. The law agrees with the wrong part as there is an automatic $300 fine for distracted driving that's non-negotiable. Drivers can't talk their way out of the fine if a policeman sees and tickets them. In fact, there are some drivers who believe that it's all just a plot on the part of the town to build up revenues. After all, they reason, it is their right to pick up that phone and talk away.

Using a related example

How bad is this problem? Let's use another, but somewhat related program to illustrate the driver attitude to distracted driving. In this case, the program is the crosswalk right-of-way law makes it a huge offense, punishable by a $500 fine, to run though a crosswalk that has pedestrians within it.

One local town, whose leaders are fed up with people ignoring the law, has actually started to crackdown on those drivers who ignore the crosswalk law (pedestrians automatically have the right of way and drivers must stop until the crosswalk is clear). The result of their push to make drivers aware has been brought more than $40,000 to the town's bank account.

The reaction of the driving population, when questioned by a local television outlet, NECN (New England Cable News Network), has been predictable. It has ranged from outrage to the belief that it is entrapment and the town should be punished. (The town uses a member of their police department to walk back and forth in the crosswalk and when drivers ignore the pedestrian, just blasting right through the crosswalk, a police car with sirens blaring and lights flashing stops them. The drivers don't think what they have done is wrong.)

Take this a step further and add texting to the mix and you have compounded the problem. Not only is the driver not paying attention to the crosswalk law because he is too busy with his text, he also has his eyes off the road.

Fatal payout

As pointed out by Boston's print, television and cable outlets last year, ranging from the Boston Globe, WBZ-TV, WCVB-TV, NECN, The Patriot Ledger, and organizations such as the AAA in its own publications, texting and driving just don't mix.

Again, it's as if you are driving and drinking – not a good idea. Texting is also a practice that can have fatal consequences, such as the teenaged newspaper delivery person, who was walking his bike across a crosswalk during a winter day in 2012, when a rather expensive vehicle's driver who was texting, ignored the crosswalk law and struck and killed the paper carrier. The stories, at the time, pointed out the driver never saw the youth in the crosswalk because he was texting.

The fine for this little piece of work – this is the fine portion only – was at least $800 and didn't count any other punishment.

Perhaps the most outrageous distracted driving story happened three years ago during high school graduation season. As pointed out by the AAA, during its successful push to have texting made into the crime that it is, a highly popular teenager was on her way to school but never made it. She had always been responsible and on time for events so people became worried. According to media outlets, they found the young woman's car well off the road, smashed into a tree.

News accounts noted there were no skid marks which would have indicated she hit her brakes. Tire tracks also indicated the car had taken only one line off the road and into the tree. On examining the crash scene, authorities noted that they found her cellphone nearby. Investigators believe she was distracted by her texts and that caused the accident.

Most obvious types of distraction

Cellphone or smart phone use for calling or texting or using a special smart phone application are the most obvious types of driving distractions, however, given today's “wired” car there are more and more distractions for a driver.

For example, as GPS use has grown, operators have suction cups attached to their windshields – obscuring their vision – and they are distracted from driving. In an ironic twist, drivers think that the GPS device is crucial to their driving. They don't realize the distraction it is.

Auto manufacturers are also clearly concerned by the distraction factor as DVD players have become standard on dashboards, allowing drivers the option of using the screen as a navigation device or, by inserting a DVD, the operator can watch the latest “Transformers” movie. If they are used as DVD players, the owners manual tells drivers to make sure their vehicle is parked and not in gear.

And, as more and more computers find their way aboard cars – some recent C/Net estimates put the number of computers in a car at about 400 – and as Internet access becomes a “necessary item” one of those computer systems will certainly link the auto to the Internet and drivers will have to have an interface device so this could become the biggest distraction of all.

Owners manuals of those vehicles equipped with Internet access capability try to ensure the larger front-screened devices are used safely, but there's no way for a manufacturer to keep a driver from using an Internet -ready system short of either linking the transmission to a built-in Internet kill switch or making the device motion sensitive so that it will run only when the vehicle is parked.

Believe it or not, allergies can also lead to distracted driving as you can see in http://www.safecar.info/seasonal-allergies-as-distracted-driving.

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