Driving while distracted is not a new problem, but with the advent of smart phones and all of their many capabilities, it is a bigger problem now than it has been in the past. According to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA), any given daylight moments finds about 660,000 drivers talking on cell phones or texting as they go speeding down the road. In 2011, distracted drivers were involved in the accident-related deaths of 3,331 people. Distracted drivers were also involved in crashes that injured a total of 387,000 people. In all of the crashes related to driving while distracted, cell phone use was the culprit in more than 21,000 cases. Clearly, distractions compromise an individual's ability to drive safely. There are three types of distracted driving. The first is visual, which means taking one's eyes off the road. The second is manual, meaning taking one's hands off the steering wheel. The third is cognitive, which means losing focus or taking one's mind off of defensive driving. The dangers of cognitive distraction tend to be under-rated. Some people, for instance, have suggested hands-free devices to use during cell phone calls as a way to make travel safer. They forget that an intense conversation may still distract the driver cognitively and lead to unsafe behaviors like crossing the median or running a red light. Often, one event may create several different types of distractions. For instance, looking at a text may involve visual and cognitive distraction. Sending a text may involve all three kinds of distraction. It is important to remember that all forms of distraction are a threat to national safety on the highways.
In order to address the issue of driving while distracted, some states, like California, have banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving. According to the NHTSA, these measures are popular. Up to 74 percent of the U.S. population agrees with banning the use of hand-held devices while driving and 94 percent support a ban on texting. Most people also agree that stiff penalties - $200 or more per offense – should be levied to encourage people to drive safely. States that currently have a handheld phone ban for drivers of all ages include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Oregon. Some states, including Maryland and West Virginia allow police to charge people for using a handheld phone is they are using the phone when they are pulled over and cited for another reason. This is called a secondary offense.
Although teenagers often bear the brunt of the blame for declining national safety on the highways, this bias may be unfair. NHTSA statistics show that nearly one-half of drivers of any age answer cell phone calls while driving. Nearly one-fourth of all drivers place phone calls while driving. This may be because people don't perceive themselves as distracted when they make and take calls, but they are quick to agree that driving while distracted is a risky habit when other drivers engage in it. Older passengers are also more likely to ask their driver to stop talking on a hand-held cell phone or texting. Younger passengers say they would be less likely to speak up.
A great deal of technology such as smart phones, e-readers, and GPS systems has become available to drivers over the last few years. Although we all strive to stay safe on the road, learning how to put the fantastic new toys down continues to be a challenge.
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