Distracted driving extends past cell phonesPublished 6:31pm Friday, December 16, 2011
Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board made a recommendation that is guaranteed to save thousands American lives and make millions of Americans miserable.
Its recommendation? Outlaw cell phone use by drivers for any purpose, including hands-free cell phones and wireless headsets.
It’s a big call. I don’t think U.S. drivers would stand for a ban on cell phone use. But based on everything I read and personal experience, we probably ought to put our phones down when we grip the wheel. We should also put down our cheeseburgers and hair brushes, and stop rummaging around in purses, backpacks, briefcases and diaper bags and refereeing backseat spats, and staring at the passenger side to get the window rolled down just enough so the dog’s ears fly but the whole dog can’t fit through the window.
No matter how you’re distracted, it’s the same problem. And if you don’t think it’s going on, just spend a few minutes – it won’t take longer than that – looking through car windows on Highway 280 and see what other drivers are doing. I’ve done it. It’s scary.
The NTSB agency didn’t mention all the other distractions; it just focused on the cell phone.
“Every year, new devices are released,” said Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the safety board. “People are tempted to update their Facebook page, they are tempted to tweet, as if sitting at a desk. But they are driving a car … It’s about cognitive distraction. It’s about not being engaged at the task at hand. Lives are being lost in the blink of an eye. You can’t take it back, you can’t have a do over, and you can’t rewind.”
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, more than 3,000 people in were killed in America by distracted driving accidents. More than a million crashes annually – about a quarter of all wrecks – are linked to distracted driving. Driving distracted is one of those things that is very easy to do. And 99.999999 percent of the time, it’s a guilty pleasure with no consequences. But that slight fraction of a chance of another car pulling out when you’re looking down and dialing can be a killer.
Alabama law on cell phone use is lax. Right now it is legal – though not very smart – for non-commercial drivers to use a handheld cell phone to talk and to text while they are driving in our state as long as they’ve been driving for longer than six months, are older than 17 and they’re not considered “novice drivers.”
As of this month, laws about cell phone use while driving vary wildly according to state. If you’re driving out of state this Christmas, here’s some information you might want to know: only nine states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands make it illegal for any driver to use a handheld cell phone, but 35 states ban texting by drivers. Three states specifically ban school bus drivers from texting while driving.
I don’t know the answer to all of this, but I do know that the driving distracted problem extends way past cell phones. Here’s a few more digital distractions that ought to be considered:
Car radios with a zillion channels on satellite radio, AM, FM, iPod plug-ins, Bluetooth audio sent through the air from an iPod or phone into your stereo. Ever tried to find the perfect song without taking your eyes off the road?
Television. Yes it’s probably OK for the folks in the back seat. Did you know that many dashboard players can also show movies, music videos and reruns of I Love Lucy?
Navigation devices. I use mine all the time. To use it, I have to type in addresses, hit a bunch of buttons on a touch screen and then look at it while I’m driving.
Internet – that’s right, many in-dash computers allow connection to the internet to get information about weather, traffic congestion etc. Before long, you’ll be able to play Angry Birds or Scrabble on your dashboard.
What’s even worse is that now it’s possible to watch football games live on a cell phone.
Let’s take a quick show of hands: If you had to drive somewhere during the Iron Bowl, how many of you would consider wedging your cell phone into the speedometer compartment and splitting your attention between the game and the road?
Put your hands down now … and please keep them on the wheel.
Boone is publisher of The Outlook.