Every day in the U.S., approximately nine people are killed while more than 1,000 people are injured in automobile accidents due to distracted driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2015, of the 48,613 fatal automobile crashes on U.S. roadways, distraction was responsible for seven percent—or 3,263 of them. Additionally, of the 35,092 traffic-related fatalities, distracted drivers were responsible for ten percent—or 3,477 victims. An additional 391,000 drivers were injured due to distracted drivers. In 2016, distracted driving took the lives of 3,450 people.
Distracted driving has become a national health epidemic akin to drunk driving, thus requiring increased attention to combat it.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is operating a motor vehicle while performing another activity that diverts the driver’s attention away from the road. There are three primary types: visual, wherein one’s eyes are diverted from the road; manual, in which the driver takes his/her hands off of the wheel; and cognitive, or taking one’s mind off the complex task of driving. Anything that divers one’s attention from driving can endanger the driver, passengers, and others.
Among the most common distracting activities to which motorists often fall prey include:
Talking on a cell phone
Using a navigation or GPS system
Conversing with passengers
Attending to children
Adjusting the stereo
Of these, texting is particularly dangerous because it involves all three of the aforementioned distractions. In fact, in the five seconds it takes to send or read a text message, a vehicle traveling 55 miles per hour can travel approximately 1,000 yards.
Further, given the increased sophistication of modern technology, potential distractions increase exponentially. Recent AAA research uncovered the rising distraction posed by newer infotainment systems that are becoming standard in modern vehicles. From voice commands to maneuvering through complicated touch screen menus, these systems offer additional tasks which drivers have no business performing while driving.
Young adults and teens are most at risk for engaging in distracted driving. In fact, drivers under 20 years of age have the greatest number of fatal distraction-related automobile accidents with texting the primary culprit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report, 42 percent of high school students reported sending a text or email while driving in the prior 30 days.
Many ask what is being done at the state, local, and federal level to combat distracted driving.
Numerous states are enacting legislation—including prohibiting texting while driving and exploring the use of graduated licensing systems for teenage drivers—to raise awareness about this danger and, hopefully, prevent their occurrence. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as of June 2017, 47 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving while 14 states and the District of Columbia have banned hand-held phone use by drivers. Many local governments have also enacted prohibitions against texting and talking on the phone while driving.
At the federal level, organizations such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, and NHTSA have issued restrictions on hand-held cell phone use and texting while driving.
The NHTSA—along with state and local police departments—also promotes education programs warning Americans about the dangers of distracted driving. Through public service announcements and other campaigns, the NHTSA implores drivers of all ages to refrain from engaging in ANY distracting activities while driving.
South Carolina’s efforts
South Carolina is examining how to address its own distracted driving problem. In 2016, South Carolina topped all states in traffic fatalities per 200 million miles with 1,015 victims.
Earlier this year, State Representative Bill Taylor (R-Aiken) introduced a bill (H. 4480)—entitled “Driving Under the Influence of an Electronic Device” or “DUI-E”— that prohibits drivers from holding a cell phone in either hand while behind the wheel while also increasing penalties for texting while driving.
In its current form, this bill subjects first-time offenders to a $100 fine with subsequent violation penalties increasing to $300. Additionally, the driver would have two points attached to his/her license, and all violations would be reported to the person’s insurance company. The former 2014 texting ban carries only a $25 fine and has been found to be an ineffective deterrent.
This proposed legislation has attracted support from the Department of Motor Vehicles, motorcycle safety groups, and the Department of Public Safety.
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