PD Editorial: It's time for drivers to hang up the phone
Published: Monday, December 19, 2011 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 19, 2011 at 4:20 p.m.
State officials periodically ask California drivers to name their biggest traffic safety concern. In the latest survey, a new No. 1 answer emerged: drivers using cellphones.
Perhaps they were referring to all those other drivers talking on the phone — because it’s been 3½ years since California restricted drivers to hands-free devices, and spotting someone clinging to a cellphone in traffic is still as common as the potholes on local streets.
If you’re one of those who doesn’t think it’s risky, consider these numbers:
Cellphone use was listed as a factor in 995 traffic fatalities in the United States in 2009. That’s about one in five deaths attributed to distracted driving.
A National Safety Council report published last year blamed 28 percent of all crashes on cellphone use.
Those figures help explain the “no call, no text, no update” recommendation issued last week by the National Transportation Safety Board. The board unanimously urged states to prohibit drivers from using cellphones and other personal electronic devices, including hands-free phones and bluetooth headsets.
Cellphones and other electronic gadgets have changed the way people work, play and communicate. But no call, no text and certainly no game is worth someone’s life.
“Lives are being lost in the blink of an eye,” NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman told the New York Times. “You can’t take it back, you can’t have a do over, and you can’t rewind.”
Studies have shown that talking on a cellphone is more distracting than listening to music or talking with a passenger and that a driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or a close call while texting. Beyond the research, there are the stories of lives needlessly lost.
In Sonoma County, we mourned for 2-year-old Calli Murray, who was crossing a Rohnert Park street with her mother when she was killed by a driver sending a text message.
The NTSB recommendation followed its investigation of a deadly pileup in Missouri in which the responsible driver had sent or received 11 texts in 11 minutes.
With cellphone use supplanting aggressive driving as top concern in the the state Office of Traffic Safety’s survey of California drivers, there’s reason to hope people are starting to recognize the danger. But there’s no evidence that they’re hanging up while they drive.
According to new figures from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, one of every 20 drivers is using a hand-held cellphone at any given daylight moment. Almost one of every 100 drivers can be seen sending a text message or operating a digital device.
NTSB officials say lax enforcement is one reason that existing laws restricting but not forbidding cellphones haven’t worked. Smartphones, meanwhile, are adding a whole new array of potential distractions.
Drivers will always have distractions, but phones are one they can do without. Stricter drunken driving laws have made roads safer. Stricter cellphone laws eventually would do the same. Meanwhile, if you value your life, hang up and drive.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.