The recently released “2014 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws”, issued by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, provides a wealth of interesting and sometimes troubling information.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 3,328 people killed and 421,000 injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012. This statistic is probably low, given the likely underreporting of crashes involving cell phones because of differences in police crash report coding, database limitations and other challenges. It is obvious, nonetheless, that the increasing use of electronic devices, such as mobile phones and text messaging, is a significant source of driver distraction. A body of research has established that the use of these devices involves a significant degree of cognitive distraction, and as a result, the behavior of drivers using mobile phones, whether hand-held or hands-free, is equivalent to the behavior of drivers at the threshold of the legal limit for alcohol (0.08% BAC). Under these circumstances, crash risk increases dramatically when a driver is using a mobile phone, and it sometimes can be as much as four times higher. Interestingly, many studies have found there was no significant safety difference between hand-held and hands-free phone usage while operating a motor vehicle. Studies have also demonstrated that sending or receiving a text message causes a driver’s eyes to be off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. This may not seem to be a long period of time, but when driving at 55 miles per hour, this is the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field blind!
Drunk driving remains a substantial and serious safety threat, accounting for nearly a third of all traffic deaths in the United States. 10,322 people died in crashes involving drunk drivers in 2012, a 5% increase over the deadly 2011 statistic. Another way to understand this troubling number is this: one alcohol impaired driving fatality occurred every 51 minutes in 2012. It is a common misconception that most people who are convicted of their first drunk driving offense are social drinkers who made one mistake. This just isn’t so – NHTSA studies reveal that on average a person arrested for drunk driving has driven drunk 87 other times! The NHTSA studies also revealed that drivers with a BAC of .08% or higher involved in fatal crashes were seven times more likely to have a prior conviction for driving while intoxicated than were drivers with no alcohol. Fortunately, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted .08% BAC laws, a national 21 minimum drinking age, and zero-tolerance BAC laws for youth.