By L&T Managing Editor Larry Phillips
It seems everyone’s lives are being taken over by smartphones, tablets and other digital devices – my own included.
I remember hanging onto my old cell phone for years, then I finally went with a Droid about four years ago, and now I can’t seem to do without it. Earlier this week, I left it at home when I went to work.
I didn’t hardly know what to do. I did have a land line available, but all my phone numbers are in my smartphone. I had to get out the phone book – I can barley remember my own number, let alone anybody else’s now. And no it’s not just my age. The memory for numbers goes when for years all you have to do is hit the buttons, and voilá, you reach who you need.
Several things about these devices frighten me. One being youngsters are growing up without knowing how to react face-to-face with other humans – a loss of skills that will certainly hinder their life in the real world.
Another is the growing dangers these devices present while driving. I see it constantly – people sitting at a green light while talking on their cell, or turning without turn signals because their free hand is holding a phone.
Everybody seems to know it’s dangerous, but many may not realize it’s actually very deadly.
Last April, The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a survey, that according to NHTSA, “show that Americans continue to use electronic devices while driving, despite warnings that it causes their own driving to deteriorate and can lead to crashes, injuries and even death.”
NHTSA added, “more than 3,331 people were killed in 2011 and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver,” and that in 2011, “approximately 660,000 drivers were using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.”
Here is some other data released by NHTSA:
• Ten percent of fatal crashes in 2011 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
• Seventeen percent of injury crashes in 2011 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
• Eleven percent of all drivers 15-19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.
• For drivers 15-19 years old involved in fatal crashes, 21 percent of the distracted drivers were distracted by the use of cell phones.
• In 2011, 495 nonoccupants were killed in distraction-affected crashes.
According to NHTSA 32,885 people died in traffic crashes in 2010 in the United States (latest figures available), including an estimated 10,228 people who died in drunk driving crashes, accounting for 31 percent of all traffic deaths that year.
Actual deaths from drinking and driving have decreased since their peak in 1982 when 21,113 died while under the influence – or 52 percent of all traffic-related fatalities.
If distracted driving from use of cell phones and digital devices was at 10 percent in 2011, where will it be a decade from now?
Maybe its time Mothers Against Drunk Driving started Mothers Against Drivers Using Smartphones – MADUS.
They could use their influence on stiffening fines and jail terms like they have with DUIs. Surely the data showing 21 percent of fatal vehicle deaths among 15- to 19-year-olds was caused by the use of cell phones, concerns these mothers as well as drunken drivers.
And look at the victims in these crashes – 495 nonoccupants were killed in distraction-affected crashes.
In the April NHTSA report, it noted, “So far 39 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. Also 10 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.”
I abhor more government intrusion on the everyday lives of citizens, but maybe stiff laws and fines are needed to stop drivers from using while driving – using cell phones, that is.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood put it like this:
“Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America's roadways. There is no way to text and drive safely. Powering down your cell phone when you’re behind the wheel can save lives – maybe even your own.”