Driving and Cell Phones Are a Deadly Combination

Injuries and deaths due to distracted driving—primarily from the use of cell phones—are increasing. Driving and cell phones are a deadly combination.

A study of driving and cell phone use in 2017 found that almost 90 percent of drivers reported using their cell phones while operating a vehicle. The study also found that drivers spent more than three minutes per hour on their phones, a distraction that significantly increased their chances of having a car accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that distracted driving caused 391,000 injuries from motor vehicle accidents in 2015, and 3,450 deaths in 2016. Of these fatal crashes, 14 percent involved the use of a cell phone.

Cell phone use is often under-reported in accident statistics, however. NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia tracks the causes of motor vehicle accidents. Their information relies on drivers or accident witnesses reporting cell phone use. According to a report from the National Safety Council, “Crashes Involving Cell Phones: Challenges of Collecting and Reporting Reliable Crash Data,” police may not report cell phone use if another violation contributed to the accident. For example, the police report may say that the driver failed to stay in the proper lane, but they may not report that it was due to cell phone use. It may be years before we know the true picture of how many injuries and deaths are caused by distracted drivers, particularly those involving cell phones.

Anything that takes a driver’s eyes or attention off the road is potentially an accident waiting to happen. As a result, many cities and states have passed laws to ban texting and driving.

Tucson ban on cellphones and driving

The Tucson City Council voted last year to regulate the use of cell phones and portable electronic devices while driving. The Council passed a hands-free ordinance making the use of handheld electronic devices while driving a primary offense, which means that police officers can pull over drivers they see or suspect are using a cellphone. The mere fact that a driver is holding a cell phone in his or her hand is an infraction.

A previous law stated that drivers could only be cited for cell phone use if the officer had pulled them over for another reason. A similar law has been in effect in Pima County since 2017.

The change is designed to prevent distractions from texting and using phones for other purposes, such as social media, while operating a vehicle. Under the new law, drivers are permitted to use a hands-free device. Drivers cannot use a device that is not hands-free while driving or while stopped on a street or highway (such as at a stop light or sign).

Ticketing for this offense started in late March. A first-time violator can be fined $50, although if there is an accident the fine will be a minimum of $250.

Arizona—only one of 3 states with no texting ban

Arizona is currently one of only three states that does not have a law that bans texting while driving. In 2016, AT&T analyzed data from a campaign called It Can Wait and found that texting bans are working—states with texting bans have far lower rates of texting while driving. This means fewer drivers in the 47 states that ban texting and driving are putting themselves or others at risk for accidental injury or death.

Last year the Arizona Senate considered a law to ban texting while driving. Although the bill that was put forward by committee was not passed, in July Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a bill that prohibits teenagers from texting while driving when they have a learner’s permit, and within the first six months of getting their driver’s license.

Reduce your risk from distracted driving

You can’t control what others do, but you can reduce your chances of injury from an accident by not using your cell phone at all when you’re driving. According to the National Safety Council, drivers having a phone conversation may miss up to 50 percent of what’s going on around them even when using a hands-free device. Texting is even more of a distraction. A driver’s eyes will be off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds while texting, which at 55 mph means the car can travel the length of a football field without the driver paying attention.

If you are walking or bicycling, it is just as important that you stay focused on your surroundings rather than your electronic device.

Remember also to use your seat belt to reduce your risk if you are involved in an accident.

Wrong-Way Crashes Cause Serious Injury and Death

Each year an average of 360 people nationwide are killed in wrong-way crashes, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The report states that although collisions involving wrong-way drivers only account for about three percent of accidents, wrong-way crashes cause serious injury and death because these are usually head-on crashes.

Several decades of research shows that wrong-way crashes have higher rates of fatalities than other types of accidents. In addition, data from 2004 to 2009 showed that 60 percent of fatal wrong-way crashes likely involved impairment by alcohol.

In Arizona, the number of cases of drivers going the wrong way increased more than eight percent between 2016 and 2017, with over 1,700 reported wrong-way incidents in 2017. That year, wrong way drivers caused 54 accidents, with 18 fatalities.

Arizona Takes Action Against Wrong-Way Driving

The state has been taking measures to reduce wrong-way driving. In the fall of 2017, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) installed a thermal detection system in Phoenix.

The system uses cameras at exit ramps and along the interstate. When a camera spots a vehicle traveling the wrong way, it sends an alert to ADOT, which then sends messages to highway alert boards to warn drivers of the danger. If the system detects a wrong-way driver at an off-ramp, it activates a flashing red sign to alert the wrong-way driver.

In any case, the system also notifies law enforcement, who can then travel to the scene. As of mid-June, this technology had detected more than 12 wrong-way drivers.

The state has also installed hundreds of larger “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs throughout Arizona.

As part of Arizona’s effort to address the wrong-way driving problem, Governor Doug Ducey signed a law last year that imposes tougher penalties for motorists caught driving the wrong way. Wrong-way drivers in Arizona who are found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol will now face felony charges, including a possible four months to 2½ years in prison. Anyone stopped for wrong-way driving will be fined $500 and will be required to attend traffic school.

“Drive Aware Get There” Safety Campaign

ADOT’S Drive Aware Get There safety campaign was launched to reduce wrong-way driving and help motorists learn what can they can do to protect themselves from a wrong-way driver.

Because research shows most wrong-way drivers are impaired, driving defensively is key to preventing a tragic encounter. Motorists are advised to avoid distractions while driving and to focus on their surroundings, including what is far ahead on the road, giving them a chance to spot any erratic driving and take action before it becomes an issue.

ADOT advises that if you are on a two-lane road, stay away from the center line to accommodate oncoming cars that may be closer to the center line. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, get to the side of the road and call 911. If you are on a highway, try to stay in the right lane, as wrong-way drivers are more likely to be in the far left lane or in the carpool lane.

If you see that a wrong-way driver is coming towards you, ADOT recommends you slow by easing your foot off the gas and try to steer away from the wrong-way driver. Again, if you can, get off the road and call 911.

Of all vehicle accidents, head-on collisions have the greatest potential to cause serious injuries and fatalities. Although Arizona is taking steps to reduce the chances of wrong-way driving, you can do your part to keep yourself and others safe by being alert, wearing your seat belt, not driving while impaired, and avoiding distractions while driving.

Ignoring Auto Recalls May Put You at Risk for Car Accidents

When a class of vehicles presents a safety hazard that increases the risk for car accidents and serious injury, the manufacturer may recall the vehicles to correct the unsafe issues. Automakers are required to fix defects by repairing or replacing the defective part, offering a refund, or very rarely by repurchasing the vehicle.

Since the beginning of the year, several automakers have issued recalls to fix or replace defects that could have serious safety risks for drivers and their passengers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides monthly reports of vehicles that have been recalled, along with the safety issues that need to be addressed. It’s important to know if your vehicle has been recalled—doing so can help you avoid an accident or serious injury.

How to Check if Your Car is Part of an Active Safety Recall

If you registered your vehicle when you bought it, the manufacturer will mail a notice to alert you it has been recalled. It’s important to keep your vehicle registration updated so you can receive these notifications.

You can sign up with NHTSA to receive e-mail notifications for a vehicle’s specific make and model. You can also check a car’s recall record by entering its VIN number at safercar.gov.

Follow the safety guidance and instructions from the manufacturer if you find that your vehicle has been recalled. In some cases, the defect may pose such a serious safety risk that you will be advised not to drive the vehicle. Do not drive warnings were issued earlier this year when Ford recalled certain 2006 Ford Ranger trucks and Mazda recalled 2006 B-series trucks due to the danger presented by Takata airbags. Although other automakers have also recalled vehicles to fix this airbag issue, Ford and Mazda requested that owners not drive these vehicles until they are repaired, fearing catastrophic injuries.

In another case, Fiat Chrysler recalled more than 4.8 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix an issue that could leave drivers unable to turn off cruise control. Affected vehicles were from the 2014 to 2019 model years and included Jeep (Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Wrangler), Dodge (Charger, Challenger, Journey, Durango), Chrysler (Chrysler 200, Chrysler 300, Chrysler Pacifica), and Ram (Ram pickups—1500, 2500 and 3500; Ram cab chassis trucks—500/4500/5500). Fiat Chrysler strongly advised drivers to avoid using cruise control until the repairs are made.

In addition to these recalls, this year Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Kia, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, and General Motors (among others), have also issued recalls to fix a variety of safety issues that could increase the risk of crash or injury. Examples of these recalls include a possible electrical short in the anti-lock brake module due to entry of water, which could lead to an engine fire with risk of injury (Hyundai); possible crack in the drive belt automatic tensioner flange, which could lead to engine stall and crash (Mitsubishi); inaccurate tire information label that could result in overloading and increasing crash risk (Toyota); improper tempering of window glass, which, if broken, could cause the glass to break into large pieces and cause injury (General Motors).

It will cost you nothing to get the work done on your vehicle if it has been recalled. You should call your local dealership as soon as possible if you find that your vehicle has been recalled. Neglecting to do so may put you, your passengers, or other drivers at risk of serious, catastrophic personal injury in the event of a car accident.

Do Self-driving Cars Really Mean Fewer Auto Accidents?

Self-driving cars have been making their way onto streets and highways for a few years now, and the technology continues to improve. While they may hold the promise of fewer auto accidents due to human error, they aren’t yet error-free.

Several cases of injuries or deaths involving self-driving vehicles have been in the news, including the incident of a pedestrian killed in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018 by a self-driving Uber. This was the first known traffic fatality involving a pedestrian and a self-driving car. The car was in self-driving mode and had a human safety driver in place. A preliminary report on the accident showed that the car recognized the need to brake when the victim was spotted on the roadway. However, the emergency braking system had been disabled to allow the human safety operator in the vehicle to brake when necessary. Unfortunately, the human operator had been distracted watching a show on her mobile electronic device and did not see the pedestrian. According to the report, the system did not alert the human operator to the need to brake.

Following this fatal accident, Uber suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles in several states. Arizona governor Doug Ducey then suspended Uber from continuing to test its vehicles in Arizona. By the end of May, Uber announced that it would no longer test its self-driving vehicles in Arizona at all.

Arizona had been particularly keen to attract self-driving car companies to the state. Governor Ducey issued an executive order in 2015 promising little in the way of regulations for companies wanting to test their self-driving vehicles in the state. Dozens of companies flocked to Arizona to take advantage of the permissive and regulation-free atmosphere.

Several companies, including Uber, GM, Ford, Waymo, Tesla, and others are developing and testing self-driving cars. These companies vary widely in the level of development, including the number of miles they are able to drive without requiring human drivers to take control.

Some states, such as California, require manufacturers of self-driving cars to report incidents in which human drivers have to take control (also called an “intervention”). One site reported that in California, Waymo cars traveled approximately 5600 miles without human drivers taking control or intervening. General Motors reported one intervention approximately every 1250 miles. Unlike California, Arizona does not require manufacturers who are testing self-driving cars to report incidents in which human drivers take control. The New York Times, however, was able to determine that Uber was barely meeting its target in Arizona of just 13 miles per intervention as of March 2018.

As of March 2018, there were an estimated 600 driverless cars on the road in Arizona. Waymo was testing cars with an operator in the vehicle, but not behind the wheel, as of November 2017. Arizona still doesn’t require companies to report accidents involving self-driving vehicles, so it’s difficult to determine a total number for how many injury and non-fatal accidents have involved a self-driving vehicle in the state.

Are we allowing these vehicles on public roads before all the issues that could affect public safety have been worked out? As the recent unfortunate accident involving the pedestrian in Tempe shows, even cars with a human safety driver aren’t yet infallible. In addition, there are numerous other factors to consider, including insurance, reporting requirements, and liability issues. As the LA Times pointed out, self-driving cars are here, but are we, and our social and legal structures, ready for them?

Pet Distractions While Driving

When we think about distracted driving, we most often think about talking or texting on a cell phone. Those aren’t the only distractions drivers face, however. Many people don’t think about pet distractions while driving. However, driving with a pet unrestrained in a car can lead to driver distraction.

A 2011 survey of dog owners found that over 50% of people reported that their attention was taken away from the road in the previous year while petting their dog, and nearly 20% admitted to having taken their hands off the wheel to keep a dog from getting in the front seat. In addition, 17% reported that they had held or allowed a dog to sit in their lap, and 3% even admitted to taking a photo of their dog while they were driving.

Considering that there are nearly 90 million dogs in the U.S. (not to mention cats), those numbers show there are potentially a lot of distracted drivers on the roads.

An animal in a car (dog, cat, or other) could also affect a driver’s ability to control the car by interfering with steering or changing gears, getting under the gas or brake pedals, or blocking the driver’s view. Any of these could cause an accident by themselves, but the driver may also be distracted by trying to control the animal.

Besides being a distraction that could lead to a crash, having an unrestrained animal in the car is dangerous, both for the animal and the occupants of the car. In the event of a crash, an animal can be thrown with great force and can be injured or killed, or can injure or kill a driver or passenger. Think about an unrestrained 10-pound animal in a 30 mph crash—the pet becomes a projectile that can be flung about the car with 300 pounds of force. Even if you avoid a crash, sudden braking at high speed can cause an unrestrained animal to be hurled with deadly force.

Despite the dangers of driving with unrestrained animals, only eight states currently have laws regarding restraining an animal in a vehicle. So far only Hawaii specifically bans holding an animal in your lap while driving. Only a handful of states prohibit actions that could be considered distractions while driving, and this could include interacting with an animal. Arizona currently doesn’t have a statewide law on distracted driving.

Several accidents have been reported to have been caused by distractions from animals in a car. These include an accident in North Dakota caused by a dog that leaped into a woman’s lap, causing her to crash into a pond, and an accident caused by distraction from a cat that caused the driver to swerve into a school bus.

To avoid injury (or even death) to you or your pet, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that you use a harness or carrier to restrain your pet in a vehicle. The Center for Pet Safety has carried out studies of harnesses, crates, and carriers and has made recommendations about restraining animals in cars.

By restraining your pet in your vehicle you are less likely to become distracted by your pet while driving, which can help keep you, your passengers, and pets safer in the event of an accident.

How UPS Drivers Avoid Crashes

UPS drivers who have not had an avoidable accident for at least 25 years are inducted annually into their elite “Circle of Honor.” So far, 10,504 drivers , including Robert Gomez, Jr. of Tucson, have received this distinction. Mr. Gomez puts in over 100 miles daily (meaning he has logged at least 670,000 miles for UPS) and has delivered more than a million packages. How do he and other UPS drivers manage to avoid crashes and travel so many accident-free miles? The answer lies in the training they receive.

Before a new UPS driver delivers a single package, they must pass a demanding training program. Integral to this program are five “seeing” habits that keep drivers safe:

1. Aim High in Steering. Look well ahead, not just at the vehicle in front of you.
2. Get the Big Picture. Look out for things going on around you.
3. Keep Your Eyes Moving. Don’t fix your gaze—look around; use your peripheral vision.
4. Leave Yourself an Out. Prepare; plan an escape route if something unexpected happens.
5. Make Sure They See You. Use signals, lights, horns; make eye contact.

Two things you may not have noticed about UPS drivers, but that are important to their safety record, is that they rarely turn left or back up.

UPS drivers are taught to favor right turns unless a left turn is absolutely necessary. Left turns cause a vehicle to go against the flow of traffic and are more likely to cause an accident. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) of crashes in intersections (“Crash Factors in Intersection-Related Crashes: An On-Scene Perspective”) showed that of “critical pre-crash events” (an event that made a crash inevitable), over 22% involved left turns. In contrast, right turns were reported as pre-crash events only 1.2% of the time.

A study in New York City showed that left turns were involved in more pedestrian crashes than right turns by a factor of 3 to 1. In addition to reducing the risk of collisions, UPS found that implementing minimal left turns has not only reduced accidents, but it also has saved millions of gallons of gas each year and reduced vehicle emissions (since vehicles don’t idle while waiting to turn left).

UPS drivers are also taught to avoid backing up because it increases the chances that the vehicle might collide with something or someone. In the NHTSA report “Fatalities and Injuries in Motor Vehicle Backing Crashes,” most fatalities and injuries were found to involve passenger vehicles. Children under 5 years of age and adults over 70 were at greater risk. Driveways were the scene of the greatest number of deaths from backover collisions.

Remember that if you cause an injury or an accident while backing up, you may be held responsible for those injuries. If you must back up, check your surroundings carefully and thoroughly before doing so. When you do back up, back as slowly as possible. Use your rearview mirror, side mirrors, and backup camera (if available). Avoid backing out of a driveway into traffic. Instead, back into the driveway so you can pull out into traffic when leaving. In addition, make sure your backup lights are working in case you have to back up at night.

UPS drivers who have the privilege of being a part of the “Circle of Honor” have shared their advice for staying accident-free. This advice includes watch your mirrors; don’t be in a hurry; focus all the time; get proper rest; when you’re driving, drive; and avoid distractions.

You may or may not put in as many miles as a typical UPS driver, but you can learn from their training to avoid crashes and protect yourself and others from accidents and injuries.