Wednesday, January 11, 2006

There is a danger out there –a menace on our roads and highways. You may have even seen him driving down the freeway. Early afternoon, traffic is busy but not slow. Most cars are traveling at about 65 miles an hour.

Suddenly you see brake lights ahead. You –and the traffic around you – stab at your brakes while trying to guess which lane is in trouble.

Then - there he is. Today he is driving a SUV in the far left lane, traveling thirteen miles an hour slower than anyone else and occasionally drifting into the number two lane –

Without even cutting your eyes over to look as you pass on the right: what is that man doing?

Right! He is hunched down is the seat with the phone held between his shoulder and chin, talking about…. Who knows what he is talking about, might be “the next big deal.” Or it might be the next stop at the market.

This man is clearly a nuisance, but is he really a menace?
What connection exists between using mobile phones while driving and traffic accidents?

I have read maybe a dozen or articles over the past two weeks. Some described motorists on the phone as “being under the influence,” as dangerous as driving while drunk.

But some researchers say the effect of mobile phone use on drivers is statistically irrelevant. “People talk, so what?”

But here is something researchers do agree on: distracted drivers are dangerous.

The National Highway Safety Administration estimates that 25% of all motor vehicle accidents are distraction related.

A study by the University of Indiana identified driver inattention as “the leading cause of automobile accidents.”

Drivers are distracted by talking, eating, attending to children or pets, picking up something off the floor – almost anything could be a distraction.

But the highway patrol says that the number one cause of distraction related collisions are mobile phones.

If you are self-employed or have people working for you, your biggest injury might occur weeks or months after the crash. Here in land of the free and home of the litigious, if it smells like negligence, someone is going to be sued.

If the employer supplies the phone or if the employer encourages their employees to use the phone while driving, you might create a situation known as vicarious liability.

The State of Hawaii paid 1.5 million to the family of a New Jersey man who was struck and killed by a car driven by a public school teacher who was on her way to work. The judge found that the teacher had been distracted by using her cell phone within a minute of the accident.

Dyke Industries of Arkansas agreed to pay 16.2 million dollars to a 78 year old woman who was severely disabled after one of its salesmen, who was talking on his cell phone while driving to a sales meeting, collided with the car she was driving.

Some states legislate.

In 2005, four states -- Colorado, Delaware, Maryland and Tennessee -- banned mobile phone use by young drivers in 2005. These same drivers are not allowed to carry other teenagers in the car because of the distraction they might cause.

Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia drivers are not permitted to use hand held cell phones while driving. Connecticut can also fine you that same $100 for all driving while distracted behavior.

Consider this. Our time in the car might be the only peaceful break we get during the workday.

Don’t complicate your life by multitasking. Slow down and enjoy the solitude.

If you must work the phone while driving, invest in a hands free device. Experts agree that hands free devices do not make talking and driving safe. Be careful as you reach for your phone or as you fiddle to answer. It is most dangerous to manually dial a number – experiment with your phone’s voice dialing feature.

Remember this: on any weekday afternoon, about 5% of drivers are on the phone and when your speedometer reads 65 miles an hour, you are traveling 95 feet a second.

Be careful. Arrive alive. Don’t be driven to distraction.


January 2006  

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