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.

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.

Distracted Driving

As drivers, our ability to recognize danger and appropriately react to hazardous situations depends heavily on our sense of sight. When we drive, our eyes are constantly transmitting messages to our brain to help keep us safe.  But if you are distracted, even for just a couple of seconds, you increase the probability of putting yourself and others in danger.

We’ve all been behind or next someone guilty of distracted driving–who drifts into our lane or brakes suddenly because they aren’t paying attention to the road, or who is bobbing his head with the self deception that he is able to drive safely while texting.

According to Donald Fisher, a mechanical and industrial engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts and director of the Human Performance Laboratory, which studies driver behavior and safety, it takes two seconds for a driver to notice and react to a change in the road. Dr. Fisher says that a driver who texts is taking his or her eyes off the road for intervals of more than two seconds. He says finding the right key on a cell phone keypad can take longer than two seconds. Dr. Fisher also found that young, inexperienced drivers tended to have more frequent and longer periods of looking down, away from the road.

Many individuals have great confidence in their reaction time, but they don’t realize that texting involves visual, manual and cognitive attention, making texting the most consuming and fatal distraction they can do while driving.potentially

When driving, there are three different components involved in reacting to a hazardous road situation. The first is the mental processing time–the time it takes the brain to process that a hazardous condition exists and that it must respond accordingly. The second is movement time, which involves the action the driver has to take to avoid an accident by braking, speeding up, swerving, etc. The last is the device response time, which is the time it takes the vehicle to respond to the action taken by the driver to the situation. For example, a car will not stop immediately when a driver steps on the brakes. The amount of time it will take a car to stop depends on how fast the car is moving plus the condition of the road.

When a driver’s ability to make quick decisions is slowed or restricted by inattentiveness they place themselves in a much higher statistical risk of being in a motor vehicle accident. Making sure you’re using all your perceptive skills and senses while driving could make the difference between life and death. Next time you get behind the wheel of a car, take a couple of seconds to put your cell phone away before you hit the road. Those two seconds could just save your life.

Distractions Put Teen Drivers at Higher Risk for Accidents

One of the most important milestones in a teenager’s life is getting that set of keys to their first car and the freedom that comes along with it. The last thing on a teen driver’s mind is the associated risks of driving and the eye-opening statistics that show that teen driving is risky. The summer months prove to be the most dangerous for young drivers as they have more free time to spend on the road.

Whether it’s due to their novice skills or easily distracted nature, the risk of being in a car crash is four times more likely for drivers between the ages of 16 and 19. Additionally, their chances of a fatal collision are highest within the first six months of obtaining their driver’s license.

Car accidents are the leading cause of deaths for teenagers in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

These risks increase even more when there are teen passengers in the car. Like texting and driving, having other young people in the vehicle serve as an easy distraction that deter teen drivers from focusing on the road.

One tool that is decreasing these risks for teens is Graduated Driver Licensing programs (GDL). This tiered driving program allows new drivers to ease into full driving privileges as they gain experience and driving hours. In Arizona, teens must be at least 15 years and 6 months old to obtain their graduated instruction permit. At age 16 they may apply for their graduated driver’s license after completion of various criteria. To view this information you may visit the Arizona Department of Transportation web site. This program enables teen drivers to learn how to navigate the roads safely under lower risk situations.

AAA offers interactive tools to prepare both parents and teens for driving, including a guide to teen driver safety. Some of these tips include:

• Always wearing a seatbelt
• Not riding with other teens in the vehicle without parental consent
• Being a safe passenger
• Restrict night time driving
• Always remain alert of potentially hazardous situations
• Never drive aggressively- aggressive driving increases chances of a collision drastically

There are many resources available for both parents and teen drivers to educate themselves about safe driving. Remember to practice healthy driving habits in front of your teen.

Texting While Driving–A Risky Gamble

Gambling is part of the human condition. People flock to Las Vegas to risk losing a small amount of money to have a chance at winning big. Many times, the end result is losing big, while winning nothing.

This same risk behavior analysis occurs when people text while driving. Most who text while driving believe that they can do so safely—after all, they’ve done it before and nothing bad happened. This type of gambling, even if one has gotten away with it before, is far riskier than losing money in Las Vegas.

When we text while driving, in the two or more seconds of focusing our attention on the cell phone instead of the road, we are gambling that something unexpected will not happen.

We are gambling that a small child will not at that moment dart across the street chasing a ball.

We are gambling that the large van in front of us, which had been going 40 miles per hour, is not going to suddenly veer off into the left turn bay, immediately exposing us to a stopped row of cars.

We are gambling that the green light we were approaching isn’t going to turn yellow the instant we train our eyes on our cell phone, leaving us in a position to run a red light at the intersection.

We are gambling that the mother and her two small children who were not very noticeable when they started walking across the unmarked crosswalk will be able to see that we are not being safe drivers and will somehow avoid a catastrophe for herself and her children.

We are also gambling that the driver next to us is going to be paying attention to the road, and not to a cell phone, and is going to avoid causing a sudden emergency to which we would be unable to respond because of our momentary focus on texting.

Texting While Driving Illegal in Tucson

Yes, laws across the country are changing, so that texting, or even reading a text, will be illegal. On April 1, 2012, a new ordinance will take effect in Tucson, Arizona, that will make it illegal to text or read a text while driving.

However, we should avoid texting while driving not only because of the new law, but also because eventually, such gambling can cause us to lose everything. The safest bet while driving is to expect the unexpected, and to focus exclusively on driving.