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Distracted driving encompasses many things, from one’s drinking morning coffee to reading the newspaper, but research and tragic experiences show that using cell phones while driving is a preventa-ble distraction that outweighs all others. Most common sense should dictate good driving habits, but the 100-year history of the automobile has shown that not to be the case. It’s only human nature to fidget with the radio, primp in the mirror or talk with a rider. Twenty-first-century technology has only added to the list of things that divert our attention while on the road.
When a new state law cracking down on texting while driving went into effect Friday, Indiana became the 32nd state to ban texting while behind the wheel. And if trending continues, as is evident from decreased accidents due to cell-phone usage, state roadways should be safer. State Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, author of the texting-while-driving law, said it is intended to increase safety since “read-ing a text takes a person’s eyes off the road as long as sending one.”
Those who have become accustomed to on-demand communications and are usually only minutes away from sending or receiving their next text message may end up a little lighter in the pocket if they text while driving. Those who are caught can face fines up to $500.
The law tightens the belt on and reiterates a commitment to reducing traffic accidents in line with the federal Department of Transportation policy instituted in October for drivers of commercial vehicles. As well, previous state legislation prohibited drivers under the age of 18 from using wireless telecommunications devices while driving. The National High-way Traffic Safety Administration reports the greatest proportion of distracted drivers are in the under-20 age group; with 16 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes reported to have been distracted while driving.
“There isn’t one form of distracted driv-ing that research shows is more dangerous than texting,” state Sen. Travis Hold-man, R-Markle said.
Research on texting while driving shows that taking your eyes off the road, taking your hands off the wheel and taking your mind off what you’re doing is just as, if not more, dangerous than drinking and driv-ing. Some statistics even show that text-ing while driving increases your chance of an accident twofold over that of driv-ing while intoxicated. According to a University of Utah report, using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood-alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.
Other research from the National High-way Traffic Safety Administration shows that 20 percent of injuries sustained during crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. Of those killed in distracted-driving-related crashes, 18 percent involved the use of cell phones.
While messaging may take a driver’s attention off the road for longer periods of time, it doesn't fully account for the source of the problem, which comes from the use of handheld devices. Though the legislation is a step in the right direction, it is a little light-handed in the overall curb-ing of distracted driving as it is applied to cell-phone use. Since laws can never fully prevent someone from using poor judgement, eliminating all use of cell phones while driving, which was included in the original bill but failed in the final adoption, would have added more cred-ibility to the law. Distracted driving is a factor in a large portion of traffic accidents.
With 18 percent of those accidents reportedly linked to cell-phone usage, most data does not give specific percentages for accidents that can be directly attributed to texting while driving. If the key motive for the law is to increase safety standards, why not leave in language that would penalize drivers for other activities that takes away from the task at hand, like hand-held electronics use? An outright ban on cell phones used while driving can't be too far off.
The best-case scenario, if you are behind the wheel, drive the vehicle. Don’t talk on the phone, play with electronic de-vices or do anything else that takes your attention away from the road.
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