Commentary

October 4, 2013

Distracted driving: Law enforcement is cracking down

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Gustavo Bahena
Public Affairs Office NTC and Fort Irwin

Do you ever send text messages or e-mails when you are driving?

Focus on driving when behind the wheel; the statistics on distracted driving are proof of its dangers

Many of us do it. Talk on a cell phone, change a CD in the stereo, scold our kids, eat, or even send text messages. But have you done it while driving?

If you have, then you’ve driven while distracted. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is any non-driving activity a person engages in while operating a motor vehicle. Such activities can distract the person from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing. There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual — taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual — taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive — taking your mind off what you’re doing

According to some research studies, distracted driving is just as dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol. A 2006 study by the University of Utah titled “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver” concluded that when driving conditions and time on task are controlled for, the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving with a blood alcohol level at 0.08 percent. The researchers, David L. Strayer, Frank A. Drews and Dennis J. Crouch, cited an even earlier study, from 1997, that suggested the relative risk of being in a traffic accident while using a cell phone is similar to the hazard associated when driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit.

Some may think that researches or surveys don’t portray what occurs in real life. Statistics, however, provide us with hard numbers on accidents and fatalities. The NHTSA reported that 3,092 deaths occurred in 2010 as a result of distracted driving. And it could be worse than the numbers portray. The NHTSA stated in a December 2011 press release that given ongoing challenges in capturing the scope of the problem – including individuals’ reluctance to admit behavior, lack of witnesses, and in some cases the death of the driver – the actual amount of crashes that involve distracted driving could be higher.

How does distracted driving affect our community at Fort Irwin? According to Fort Irwin Chief of Police Michael Kandoll, drivers are talking on their cell phone, texting, checking and answering emails, using their GPS, tuning the stereo, eating, drinking, combing hair, putting on make-up, or getting too sleepy to drive safely. He stated that local police is doing their part to keep the community safe from such drivers.

“Fort Irwin police are stopping and issuing citations to distracted drivers, who are observed to be using hand-held cell phones while driving, and those who commit other traffic violations, such as failure to stop at stop signs, improper lane travel, following too closely, or speeding,” Kandoll said.

Kandoll explained that law enforcement partners are also assisting with this problem. The California Highway Patrol is very proactive in working to reduce the number of collisions on Fort Irwin Road, he said.

“CHP briefs our newcomers on local traffic enforcement perspectives at the weekly Newcomers Briefing held on Fridays,” Kandoll said. “In addition, CHP is helpful in providing instruction for teen traffic safety programs on post. We also can refer some major traffic violations to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution if the charge to be filed is a felony under State law.”

The State of California Web site on distracted driving provides facts from 2011 statistics and informs us that CHP issued more than 10,000 cell phone tickets per month. The fine for a first time texting of hand-held cell phone violation is $159, with subsequent tickets costing $279.

Legislation and individual actions can save lives. Under the leadership of Secretary Ray LaHood, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a national campaign in 2009 to end the dangerous practice of distracted driving.

“Strong laws combined with highly visible police enforcement can significantly reduce dangerous texting and cell phone use behind the wheel,” said LaHood.

The NHTSA reports that 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers. Eleven states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.

President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order in October 2009 prohibiting Federal employees from texting while driving government vehicles or while using government-supplied cell phones while driving any vehicles.

As drivers we should strive to do one thing at a time and focus on the road. We can also take the pledge that the NHTSA advocates:
I pledge to:

  • Protect lives by never texting or talking on the phone while driving.
  • Be a good passenger and speak out if the driver in my car is distracted.
  • Encourage my friends and family to drive phone-free.



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