Friday, July 23, 2010

Put your cell phone away and keep your hands on the wheel

(ARA) - It's the new drinking and driving -- and for good reason. As Americans become more addicted to their cell phones, BlackBerry devices and other PDAs, lawmakers throughout the nation are taking action in the wake of a disturbing national trend linking cell phone use with car crashes.

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) reports the use of cell phones and other mobile devices now accounts for 25 percent of all police-reported traffic crashes. Research shows that driving while talking, texting or e-mailing with a cell phone or PDA can pose a serious distraction and interfere with driving a motor vehicle.

As a result of the growing number of cell phone-related car accidents, more states are pushing for legislation to ban cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle, according to FindLaw.com, the Internet's leading Web site for legal information. States that have banned the handheld use of cell phones by drivers include California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington as well as the District of Columbia.

The facts are especially alarming for teenagers, for whom driving-related incidents are the leading cause of death. According to an NHTSA report, more than 50 percent of teens admit to talking or texting on a cell phone while driving. At least 20 states, including Texas, currently ban any kind of cell phone use by teenage drivers, says FindLaw.com.

Because of the alarming trend linking cell phone use and driving, the National Safety Council has gone even further by calling for a complete ban on the use of all cell phones, including "hands-free" devices, for drivers nationwide.

Any activity a driver engages in while driving has the potential to distract the motorist from the primary task of operating the vehicle. A distraction is defined by any event or action that takes your eyes off the road (visual), mind off the road (cognitive), or takes your hands off the steering wheel (manual). Some research findings compare cell phone use to other activities such as passenger conversations or changing a CD while driving.

For example, studies have shown that cell phone use compared to carrying on a conversation with a passenger can be equally risky, while other studies show cell phone use to be more risky. The difference between the two is a passenger can monitor the driving situation along with the driver and pause for, or alert the driver to, potential hazards, whereas a person on the other end of the phone line is unaware of the roadway situation.

But what if a driver encounters an emergency situation or witnesses another driver's erratic driving? As a general rule, if you are in your car and witness a car accident or another emergency, pull your vehicle over to a safe location and call 911.

However, in emergency situations drivers must use their judgment regarding the urgency of the situation and the necessity to use a cell phone while driving. The key here is to avoid creating another emergency because you're using your cell phone.

In addition to using a cell phone, there are many other distractions that can increase the risk of losing control of your vehicle, according to FindLaw.com. Some activities that appear to be "hands free," such as looking at a GPS map screen, can be just as distracting as navigating a car while eating a hamburger. According to a study by the NHTSA and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involve some form of driver distraction.

The study further concluded that the typical distraction occurred within three seconds before the vehicle crash. The bottom line is that drivers who engage more frequently in distracted driving are more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident or near crash. Some common distractions that should be avoided include:

* Eating while driving, including unwrapping food products.
* Changing a CD or adjusting the radio.
* Applying make-up.
* Settling a dispute between children.
* Controlling a loose pet.
* Reading a print map or watching a GPS map screen while driving.
* Looking at an object or event outside of your car, like another accident.

It is also important to keep in mind that some activities are carried out more frequently and for longer periods of time and may result in greater risk. The primary responsibility of the driver is to operate a motor vehicle safely. The task of driving requires full attention and focus. Cell phone use can distract drivers from this task, risking harm to themselves and others. Therefore, the safest course of action is to refrain from using a cell phone while driving.

To learn more about cell phone use and driving laws, visit www.findlaw.com.

Courtesy of ARAcontent


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