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'Distracted Driving' by Rebecca Ferra

Distracted driving do to technology is one of the major causes of accidents in our modern times, particularly texting while driving. It is known that over 2.5 million people in the U.S. are involved in car accidents each year. According to a 2012 "Distracted Driving and Roads Survey" conducted by NHTSA, 1.6 million accidents involve cellphone use. This statistic means that 64% of all the road accidents in the United States are caused by some distraction brought on by technology. Out of the 421,000 people who are seriously injured each year in crashes that involve a distracted driver, over 330,000 are equated to texting while driving. These numbers are even more alarming, as this means that over 78% of all accidents due to distracted drivers can be attributed to texting while driving. According to the Moll Law Group, personal injury cases due to distracted driving must prove negligence. Negligence is defined by the four types of evidence that must be presented: "the defendant's duty of care toward you, the defendant's breach of duty, actual and proximate causation, and actual damages."

According a study done by The National Highway Safety Administration in 2011, texting and driving is 6 times more likely to get you in an accident than drinking and driving. This statement may sound unrealistic, until you consider the basic math we can apply to a distracted driver that is texting. If the average speed of a driver is 55 mph and they take five seconds to read a text, this means that the car travels the entire length of a football field without the driver looking at the road! Despite this, may adults and teens still engage in dangerous distracted driving behaviors. While it is certainly the case that only young adults are the ones caught texting and driving, they are statistically more likely than adults to do so. According to a "Distractions Challenge Teen Drivers", article published by USA Today on January 26, 2007, teen drivers have a 400% higher chance of being in a texting related car crash than adults. While 94% of teens surveyed reported that they understand the consequences of texting while driving, 35% of them admitted that they do it anyway. A study at the University of Utah found out that the reaction time for a teen using a phone while driving is the same reaction time as that of an undistracted 70 year old.

Due to this, almost every state has implemented some form of cellphone ban while driving. But do these laws help to prevent traffic accidents? Some States more strictly enforce these bans than others, which could account for the disproportionate statistics results. According to an article published by ABC New in 2015 on a study done by Alva Ferdinand, an assistant professor at Texas A&M School of Public Health, car accident related hospitalizations dropped in States that instituted stricter bans on texting and driving between 2003 and 2010. States with stricter bans on cellphone use while driving saw a decline of approximately 7 percent. The leader of this study reported that they could not conclude statistical correlation between stricter texting laws and reduced accidents due to the small percentage numbers and multiple other possible attributing factors. However, the study’s founder warns not to dismiss these results. Since the study only reviewed hospitalizations, this may not give a clear picture of the complete impact of anti-cellphone usage laws. Also, it was found that States with a "primary enforced" anti-texting laws saw the greatest statistical benefit. Primary laws imply that police can pull drivers over on suspicion of texting alone. Other States, however, have secondary enforcement laws. These laws imply that police must to catch you doing something illegal behind the wheel first, and then determine that you were texting. This could help us conclude that states with minimal anti-texting laws should move policies to more strictly enforce a zero tolerance policy for cellphone use while driving and allow law enforcement to pull people over upon suspicion of usage. In Illinois, all hand-held devices are banned while driving and the laws are relatively strict, though do allow for some smartphone use. According to the Moll Law Group’s website, legal code 625 ILCS 5/12-610.2 prohibits texting while driving. While Bluetooth, headsets, and speakerphones are allowed, drivers should always proceed with caution. It is easier to establish a driver’s negligence if it has been found that they were texting and driving at the same time. The only possible exception is if the driver reports that they are in an emergency situation themselves.

While laws are somewhat effective in curbing usage, I believe the number one way to prevent distracted driving is education and peer advocacy programs. Many campaigns have been implemented to spread the word amongst teens to speak up if they are in a car with a distracted friend who is using their cellphone. Law enforcement and parents cannot be with young drivers at all times to ensure safe driving practices, but other teens may be able to influence each other. The "It Can Wait" pledge that is sponsored by AT&T and "Stop Text, Stop Wrecks" advertising campaign put out by the National Ad Council are examples of some of the ways that cellphone companies and other agencies outreaching teens to appeal for safety. These pledges and educational speaking engagements are not unlike the MADD & SADD outreach programs of the past that took aim at drinking and driving. While no one can completely prevent distracted driving, these programs can raise awareness and, hopefully, modify unsafe driving behaviors. The truth is that cellphones and texting are not going away anytime soon, so we must find ways to live and operate our lives safely alongside technology. While it is a positive thing to have laws and consequences for negligent behavior, it would be most prudent to avoid these situations all together by teaching young adults to be safe behind the wheel.

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