Hang Up and Drive! Distracted Drivers a Major Cause of Accidents
This is the disturbing news in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's report released September 2009.
Distractions can include looking away from the road, emotional upset, and eating or drinking, but the biggest cause of distraction is the use of cell phones and laptops.
In 2008 nearly six thousand people died in motor vehicle accidents in the US caused by distracted drivers.
That's up from 19% from 2004.
Law enforcement officials and researchers suspect that the actual number of distraction-caused fatalities is significantly larger, because people who were talking or texting are reluctant to admit it, and often don't.
Texting while driving is now illegal in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
Seven states outlaw talking with a handheld device.
In a recent poll conducted by CBS and the New York Times, 90 of respondents said texting while driving should be illegal.
Only one age group disagreed.
Among respondents 18 to 29 years old, only 16 per cent thought texting should be banned for drivers.
This age group comprised 28% of distracted drivers who caused accidents.
President Obama has signed an executive order prohibiting all federal employees from texting while driving federally owned vehicles, or any vehicle while on government business.
The specific rules to support this order will be posted within 90 days.
In September 2009, right after the release of the NHTSA report, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood convened a Distracted Driving Summit, a two day meeting of traffic safety researchers and other experts charged with developing recommendations to reduce deaths and collisions caused by distracted driving.
One recommendation from the group was a sweeping nationwide ban on text-messaging by several groups of drivers who are subject to federal law: school-bus drivers, municipal and long-haul bus drivers, truckers, and railroad engineers are now forbidden to text while driving.
The federal government also served notice on the states that any state that fails to prohibit texting by drivers of passenger cars risks losing federal transportation dollars.
The message is clear.
Texting and talking on the phone reduce drivers' attention on the road.
California's Department of Motor Vehicles recommends that when you're driving, you stay fully focused on the road, and watch all the vehicles.
For your own safety, and that of everyone else on the road, hang up and drive.