The new DUI: It’s time for distracted drivers to wise up
2 January 2012
VEGAS INC Coverage
It was a weekday morning, and Glen Lerner’s jovial jingle was in my head as I drove out on the 215. I’d prepared for work with the TV on, catching some of those cute ads that remind you he’s the way to go.
Combined with the bucks spent by the gloomy Chad Golightly, the dour Adam Kutner, the stoic Ed Bernstein, and a gaggle of others aspiring to become scene-of-the accident household names, local ad spending by personal injury lawyers amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for TV affiliates. Maybe more.
They want Nevadans to know they’re here for us. In case something goes, you know, wrong. Like in a car accident.
They all came to mind as I motored along past yet another of their billboard ads, and as I couldn’t help but notice how many other drivers were looking at handheld devices as they flew by me.
Probably because there have been so many related accidents and deaths, there are now a lot of statistics on drivers’ use of mobile devices. The National Highway Safety Administration says that at any given moment, about 1 percent of all U.S. drivers are texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a handheld device — a figure that often seems low to me. And maybe I’m imagining this, but there seems to be a pattern of careless traffic maneuvers by drivers using a mobile device.
Not so long ago, I was one of those guys, having felt I’d mastered the art of one-finger typing, of surfing the Web while changing lanes and of holding the phone next to my ear while turning at an intersection. But that changed after a couple of close calls, the sort that are pretty much inevitable when you’re cruising along and not watching the road.
As of Jan. 1, the digital era is supposed to be over for every other driver in Nevada, too. Following a bold effort led last year by Sen. Shirley Breeden of Henderson, state lawmakers passed a law that prohibits motorists from texting or talking on hand-held devices. The fines start at a modest 50 bucks and escalate after that.
Other states have not had much success with this. Some have been criticized as being too gentle in their enforcement. And to get cited, drivers have to be caught in the act. So injuries and fatalities have been increasing.
Now, we are hearing that the feds have had enough. A few weeks back, the politically influential National Transportation Safety Board recommended a national ban on the use of mobile devices while driving, the only exceptions being for emergencies and navigation systems. The NTSB said that in the past couple of years alone, scores of fatal accidents resulted from distracted driving, and the phenomenon that actually is being referred to as driving under the influence of a cellphone.
Federal intervention seems unusual, but there have simply been too many high-profile accidents to ignore, and there are some crazy statistics to support their involvement.
Consider the results of a Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll released a month ago, which asked how often people did certain things while driving. A surprising 18 percent of drivers say they send or receive text messages “often or sometimes,” with 37 percent admitting they have done so at least once.
Nine percent of drivers said they occasionally surf the Internet on their little devices — a process that would really take your eyes off the road. And 7 percent of drivers even watch an occasional video on their mobile device or vehicle entertainment system. I wouldn’t know where to begin with that one. Other surveys show that more than half of all drivers between 18-24 have typed or emailed from behind the wheel.
All while driving down the street behind you and me, or while coming toward us.
Even an international publication called The Tech Herald has called for a national ban and tougher enforcement, telling readers that mobile electronic devices now account for up to 25 percent of all vehicle accidents. Seems to me that when something called The Tech Herald calls for limits on the uses of technology, it’s safe to say there’s a problem.
Now, law enforcement has the power to enforce what should be common-sense behavior. Here’s hoping they do so.
Because no matter how attentive any driver may be, there’s just not much you can do about the other guy. Glen, Chad, Adam and Ed will only be there for you after the fact.
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