published Monday, December 12th, 2011

Danger: Distracted drivers on road

Those who regularly travel area roads could hardly be surprised by the front page story in The Times Free Press on Friday that reported that texting, emailing and using hand-held electronic devices while driving is on the rise. We all too commonly see someone with their eyes off the road and one or both hands off the wheel every day on neighborhood roads, city thoroughfares and the Interstate. What's especially worrisome is that most of those who text, talk and use hand-held devices while driving think they can do so safely.

Not so. There's a considerable body of evidence that indicates distracted driving is responsible for a growing number of accidents, injuries and deaths on the road. Indeed, many drivers acknowledge that. Unfortunately, most of those drivers say that they can use the electronic devices safely. It's only when others behind the wheel use them that use of the phones and other devices becomes a danger on the road.

That's nonsense. Several recent studies have confirmed the danger of using a cellphone while driving. One indicated that a driver talking on a cellphone is four times more likely to have an accident than other drivers. Indeed, studies indicate that a driver talking on a cellphone has the same impairment as an individual with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. That ought to convince individuals to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. It hasn't.

Texting while driving increased by about 50 percent in the country last year, especially among young adults. Use of other electronic devices while driving continues to increase, too -- a rise prompted, no doubt, by the popularity of smartphones, which, of course, offer more opportunities to ignore road conditions than an ordinary cellphone. State efforts to restrict use of the devices while behind the wheel have proved ineffective. Scofflaws simply ignore them.

Piecemeal legislation against using electronic devices while driving doesn't work. The sure way to resolve the issue and to promote road safety is to ban the use of all electronic devices while behind the wheel. It will take time for such legislation to become fact. Until then, don't dial, text or use electronics while behind the wheel -- and watch out for others who do.

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