By Alex Kerwin, Communications Specialist with DistractedDrivingHelp.com
After a five year decline in traffic fatalities, the first quarter of 2012 saw a 13.5 percent increase from the first quarter of the prior year. Distracted driving is likely a significant factor in the increase in highway fatalities.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has documented an increase in distracted driving as a factor in accidents. In 2005, 10 percent of accidents were at least partly caused by distracted driving. That figure increased to 18 percent by 2010. Distracted driving led to 3092 deaths and 416,000 injuries in 2010. Drivers under age 20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted in 11 percent of the accidents. Young drivers have the highest rate of distracted driving.
While texting and driving is the most dangerous distracted driving behavior, other types of distractions are also hazardous. Many states have enacted laws to ban handheld devices like cell phones. However, even hands-free equipment users are less safe on the road. A Carnegie Mellon study found that using a cell phone while driving decreases brain activity devoted to driving by 37 percent.
Distracted driving isn’t limited to electronic devices. Eating, drinking, smoking and applying cosmetics also contribute to careless driving. Using navigation systems, reading and adjusting radios or other entertainment devices are other common behaviors by distracted drivers. Any action that takes a driver’s eyes and attention off the road can lead to auto accidents.
In response to the mounting evidence of the dangers of cell phone use by drivers, many states have passed increasingly strict laws banning them. Connecticut has one of the strictest laws in the country. A first offense carries a fine of $125 while three or more offenses cost $400 each. The law applies to both texting and using handheld cell phones. Connecticut drivers under age 18 also face license or permit suspension for up to six months. Restoration of the permit or license requires a $175 fee plus court costs.
The Connecticut law prohibits the use of both hands-free and handheld phones by drivers under age 18. All drivers are banned from using laptops, pagers, digital cameras, video game devices or DVD players.
Since Connecticut enacted their first law banning cell phone use by drivers in 2005, male drivers have received the most tickets for violations. A 2012 analysis by the Associated Press confirmed that males are more likely to be ticketed for violating the law. In 2011, 16,000 tickets were issued to male drivers for violations. Female drivers received 13,690 tickets for cell phone law violations.
While study results have been mixed on whether bans and steep fines decrease cell phone use and texting, these laws have a role to play in eliminating this dangerous behavior. A recent survey of teen drivers conducted by the Ad Council found that 88 percent of teens would decrease or stop texting while driving if it were banned. Large fines, license suspension or other strict penalties would encourage 96 percent of those surveyed to stop texting while operating a vehicle.
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