Texting while driving kills more teens than drunk driving

In the United States, a new study shows that texting and talking on a cell phone while driving has now become a primary cause of death among teens in the country, killing 3,000 people a year. Drunken driving is a secondary cause with which nearly 2,700 people die every year.

The study carried out by the Cohen Children’s Medical Centre in New Hyde Park on Long Island found that the ratio of male teens who continue texting while driving is 57% in those states in which it is banned and 59% in those states in which it is not banned. According to an NBC News report, the findings of the study by Cohen Children’s Medical Centre are similar to the study published in the US by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year which found that 58% of high school seniors accepted having texted or emailed while driving during the previous month.

In charge of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center and the author of the latest study, Dr Andrew Adesman told CBS, “The reality is kids aren’t drinking seven days per week — they are carrying their phones and texting seven days per week, so you intuitively know this a more common occurrence”. He said that there is a way to cope with the dangers associated with texting while driving which is to develop those kinds of mobile phone apps that sense when a motor vehicle is in motion and prevent a cell phone from making or receiving text messages such as the Otter app.

Road safety charity IAM conducted a research using the Transport Research Laboratory’s DigiCar simulator and it published results of research last year in the UK. The results showed that using social networks while driving was more dangerous than driving under the influence of an intoxicant. This year, a survey on Smartphone use while driving from Halfords found that 57% of youngsters under the age of 25 years accepted reading text messages while driving. The results are similar to the US report’s findings. May be there are some underlying differenes such as the age groups are different and that in many US states teenagers can drive at a much earlier age than in the UK.

The company’s In-Car Technology Manager, Dave Poulter said that the survey findings “paint a disturbing picture of what is happening on the UK’s roads and the emerging trend towards using mobile phones to link with social media while driving is extremely worrying”.

Reaction on radio phone-in shows to the Cohen Children’s Medical Centre’s survey reflected a lack of surprise about the results of the survey.

A caller told WCBS 880 that “Every single day I see it, people driving along, texting, talking on their phone. They’re not supposed to do it, but they do it — kids, grown-ups, everybody does it”. A former police officer told 1010 WINS, “I’ve seen it first-hand, it does cause accidents, it’s dangerous and it’s irresponsible. A vehicle is a weapon, just as a gun or a knife, and you can kill people. You don’t deserve to have a driver’s license and that level of responsibility where you can kill people if you’re not willing to take precautions, such as not texting and driving”.

The results of the study show that people texting or talking while driving are up to 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident, according to CBS New York. It also reported that Schools including the New York Institute of Technology and Freeport High School have had students take part in driving simulations that highlight how dangerous it is to text or talk on a cell phone while driving.

Florida became the 40th of the 50 states of the USA which banned texting while driving a motor vehicle, earlier this month. One senator said to make the texting while driving laws stricter and tough laws to be imposed on offenders.

In March, fines for texting while driving offenders should be increased and there should be harsher penalties for repeat transgressors, said Senator Charles Fuschillo who represents Long Island in the New York State Senate. He also said that “It goes up to $400 but all the penalties in the world aren’t going to stop someone from being irresponsible”.

Drowsy driving worse than Drunk Driving?

Drowsy drivers mostly reach their destination safely but sometime the results are ruinous. Going home after an overtime job with tired eyes, spending all the night with a sick baby and you rest your eyes for a second on the way to dropping off your children at school can be disastrous.

The widow of a New York police officer, who died in 2011 when a suspected drowsy driver crashed into his parked cruiser, Jackie Califano said, “To this day I still hear my boys crying out, yelling for Daddy, when they were told the news. The pain we experienced is beyond description and continues to be”.

The federal statistics show that from the time span of 2000 to 2010, more than 11,000 people died due to drowsy driving. According to experts, the problem of drowsy driving cannot be solved easily by just making and implementing new laws, it is not impossible but it is very difficult to prove sleepiness while driving. It can be easily determined by the authorities if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs and how much is the person’s BAC level. The authorities can also determine if someone has been texting or talking on the cell phone while driving.

Laws that ban commercial truck and motor coach drivers from driving more than 11 hours a day and requiring 10 hours between shifts are imperfect because the drivers themselves report those hours, said the prosecutors.

Last year, a tour bus driver was proved innocent and freed from the charge of manslaughter and negligent homicide in a 2011 Bronx accident in which 15 people died. The prosecutors’ arguments that Ophadell Williams was so sleep-deprived from overtime that it affected his ability of thinking more than if he was under the influence of an intoxicant but the jury rejected the arguments.

Patrick Bruno who defended Williams in the bus accident case said, “If you are going to try and make fatigue — sleepiness — a criminal legal issue in a motor vehicle accident, you have a lot, lot more to prove”.

That decision of the jury affected a Long Island prosecutor’s decision this year to remove the negligent homicide charges against the truck driver that caused the fatal accident in which Califano’s husband died. The truck driver paid a $500 fine and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge.

Maureen McCormick said that to obtain a conviction in the police officer’s death, she would have had to prove “serious blameworthiness”, “moral blameworthiness” or “dangerous speeding,” a standard she said is impossible to meet. McCormick heads the Nassau County vehicular crimes bureau. “Drowsy driving is something that generally has happened to everyone. The question is what do we do as a society when that feeling starts to come?,” said McCormick.

At the truck driver’s sentencing, McCormick read a statement for supporting Jackie Califano, Officer Michael Califano’s widow. “Michael, Christopher and Andrew now have to grow up without him. No more doing homework with his help. No more sports with him. No more family vacations. No more horsing around with dad. No dad for Father/Son Night at school. No dad at home to turn to when they need advice”. Jackie Califano was sitting in the front row of the courtroom with his 3 sons. Her sons are 16, 13 and 8 years old.

According to a member of the National Sleep Foundation board of directors and Atlanta attorney Dan Brown, the state in which the legislation related to drowsy driving is successfully passed is New Jersey but he observed that it cannot be solved by Maggie’s law because prosecutors must show that a driver had been awake for 24 consecutive hours to prove possible recklessness which is a very difficult task. The law was implemented in 2003, since then New Jersey court officials didn’t have statistics available on the number of arrests that were made due to drowsy driving and the successful prosecution. It was said by Massachusetts state Sen. Richard Moore that he considered legislation in 2002 after a constituent’s son died in a drowsy driving accident. “It’s not as easy as drunken driving; there’s not a good deal of research,” said Moore. Manager of research and communications at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Bruce Hamilton who pays attention on issuing brochures advising on the dangers and public education campaigns said, “There’s not a way to legislate against sleepiness”.

Drivers in Tennessee’s 4 biggest cities saw message boards last summer, appealing citizens not to drive while drowsy.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which was released this year shows that in the previous month, 4% of U.S. adults felt drowsy or fell asleep at least once while driving.

Different activities like eating or chewing gum, singing in a loud voice, listening radio in a high volume cannot help and are not effective but drinking 2 cups of coffee and taking a 15-to-20-minute nap can refresh some drivers for a short period of time, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. A National Transportation Safety Board member, Mark Rosekind said drowsy driving is a big problem and to solve it, cultural change is needed. “For some reason people in our culture think it’s OK to lose sleep and get behind the wheel. It’s just as bad as drinking and driving. As far as public awareness, drowsy driving is in the dark ages compared to that, but it’s just as dangerous. The issue has been around for a while and we need to get the word out. Clearly it has not penetrated our culture,” said Rosekind.

NTSB recommends lowering BAC level to 0.05 from 0.08

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended to decrease the BAC level allowed for driving. Presently, in all 50 states, the legal driving limit of BAC is 0.08 percent. If police finds any person driving under the influence of alcohol with a BAC level equal to 0.08% or above, then the offender is arrested and charged for it. The National Transportation Safety Board recommends lowering the BAC level from 0.08% to 0.05%.

According to the NTSB, almost 10,000 people die in accidents in which alcohol is involved and nearly 170,000 are injured every year. 30 years back, 20,000 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes, so that’s a big improvement. Alcohol and drunk driving are a threat to public safety and to the lives of people on the roads. Different studies show that approximately four million people accept to driving while intoxicated.

The restaurant trade groups criticized the recommendation.

Managing director of the American Beverage Institute, Sarah Longwell said, “This recommendation is ludicrous. Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior. Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hardcore drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel”.

United States, Canada and Iraq are some countries that have set the BAC level at .08% while most countries in Europe, including Russia, most of South America and Australia, have set BAC levels at .05%. When Australia decreased its BAC level from .08% to .05%, provinces reported a 5-18 %decrease in traffic accidents and deaths caused by drunk driving.

It is reported by NTSB that when any person has BAC level of 0.05%, he/she begins having difficulties with depth perception and other visual functions while with a BAC level of 0.07% or more, cognitive abilities become impaired. With a BAC level of 0.05%, the risk of having an accident increases by 39% and at 0.08% BAC, the risk of having an accident increases by more than 100%.

The NTSB believes that if all 50 states changed their standard BAC legal limit to .05, approximately 1,000 lives can be saved every year. It is also a struggle to help bring down the death rates on the road in America.

The last time when BAC level was decreased from .10% to .08%, it took 21 years for each state to implement.

The National Transportation Safety Board is an investigative agency and it is up to individual states whether to accept the NTSB’s recommendation. It has no legal authority to order any change in state or federal law.

News Source: www.NBCnews.com