The holidays caught up with me before I could finish this series, so I'll continue now.
Mobile phones really have changed the world. So many times I'm watching an old movie or TV show (and I mean like 10 years old) and I think how easily their current problem could be solved with a cell phone. New movies often have to deal with this by having the character lose or break their phone, have the battery die or not get reception. And while they have changed everything and often for the better, they've unfortunately made the roads more dangerous, as many drivers try to drive and communicate on the phone simultaneously.
Here's just a sampling of the statistics:
- Each year, 21% of fatal car crashes involving teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 were the result of cell phone usage. This result has been expected to grow as much as 4% every year.
- Talking on a cell phone causes nearly 25% of car accidents.
- In 2002, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis calculated that 2,600 people die each year as a result of using cellphones while driving. They estimated that another 330,000 are injured.
- According to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, drivers talking on cell phones are 18 percent slower to react to brake lights. They also take 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked.
- A car driver dialing a cell phone is 2.8 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-distracted driver.
Here's more if you need it.
While we can't eliminate all distractions (people will still think they need to grab a lighter while they're driving) that is not a reason to allow the distractions we can eliminate. Though this doesn't specifically involve cyclists, anything that makes the roads safer is good for all road users.
Ban on Texting - A recent Virginia Tech study of truck drivers showed that the danger of driving while intexticated far exceeds the danger of other distractions.
Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech institute, one of the world’s largest vehicle safety research organizations, said the study’s message was clear.
“You should never do this,” he said of texting while driving. “It should be illegal.”
Even a AAA study shows that most people (87%) think that texting while driving is dangerous.
Virginia's ban has less teeth than that of other states, as police can’t pull a driver over just for text messaging but instead need a more serious primary offense to justify the stop. And it's legal to look up a phone number on your phone or enter GPS information while driving. Virginia should make it a primary offense, remove these loopholes and raise the fine from the measly $20 ($50 for multiple offenses). There is a law to be proposed this year in Virginia to make the offense primary (a proposal that also bans using a handheld phone). The same law would extend the ban to cyclists, moped users etc... which is also a good proposal, and one that DC and Maryland should emulate.
Cell Phone Ban - While not as dangerous as texting while driving, talking on the phone has still been determined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be dangerous. Which is scary considering that according to another federal study 11% of all drivers are talking on their cell phone at any given time.
The highway safety researchers estimated that cellphone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents over all in 2002.
AAA, meanwhile, says that talking on the phone is no more distracting than tuning a radio, which isn't the same as "not distracting."
DC bans handheld phones for drivers and all phones for those with a learner's permit. Maryland and Virginia ban it for those with a learner's permit or, in Virginia, school bus drivers. But the hands-free device loophole eliminates much of the benefit as there is little to no safety enhancement in a hands-free phone.
In 2001, University of Utah researchers reported that students using cell phones -- hand-held or hands-free -- had slower reaction times than they did when not using the devices. The researchers found that drivers using either kind of cell phone missed twice as many signals as they did when not using the phones. They later estimated that talking on a hands-free phone while driving reduces the amount of visual information that can be processed by 50 percent.
DC, Maryland and Virginia should ban all cell phone use while driving. South Carolina, of all places, has already considered such a law. And, here again, they should extend the law to cyclists. Admittedly, if Virginia and Maryland ban hand held phones the section about texting becomes moot.
Other Devices Ban - DC's law also bans "other devices" which includes, but is not limited to, hand held computers, pagers and video games. Here again, Virginia and Maryland should match DC's law. And then all three should improve it to explicitly ban manipulating a GPS navigation device. A law making it illegal to touch a GPS screen while driving has been proposed in New Jersey. And of course, the other devices ban should be extended to cyclists.
Photo by Josiah Mackenzie