New Castle News


May 8, 2013

Our Opinion: Study says distracted driving deaths are under reported

NEW CASTLE — Suppose you operated a piece of heavy machinery at your job.

And suppose it’s machinery that moves quickly with little effort. What would happen if you decided to take one hand off that equipment — while it was still in motion — and instead focused your attention on a telephone call?

If you’re lucky, nothing would happen. If not, you could get fired, or you could kill somebody.

It’s really no different driving a car while using a cell phone. Yet this practice is still legal in Pennsylvania and many other states, on the belief that conducting phone chats while driving poses no particular risks, or that it’s really no business of government when people opt to drive in this manner.

Yet various studies have suggested the distractions posed by cell phones can be as hazardous as drunk driving. And now comes a new report that claims the number of deaths caused by distracted driving is substantially under reported.

This comes as a result of analysis from the National Safety Council, which reviewed 180 fatal auto accidents that occurred between 2009 and 2011. In these accidents, there was significant evidence that cell phone use contributed to them.

However, only about half of them were designated as such, based on the coding provided by police to a national accident database.

The reasons for that vary, but basically, if there is no obvious evidence that a cell phone was in use during a fatal accident, the investigating officer may not realize it. And if motorists are using a cell phone at the time of an accident, they may not admit it to investigators.

This is important, because the information collected by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is the key data used nationally to assess distracted driving risks. Yet this study implies that the number of fatal accidents attributed to cell phone use is twice as high as the official data indicates.

Information of this type needs to be provided to every lawmaker — and for that matter every motorist — in the country. It’s telling all of us that cell phone use while driving is far more dangerous than official statistics suggest.

Perhaps that will be enough to persuade more legislators that cell phone use while driving is a practice that needs to be banned. Recently, Pennsylvania technically outlawed texting while driving, yet lawmakers opted not to prohibit the use of cell phones.

And even as things stand now in the commonwealth, police issue few citations for texting, because of the way the law is structured.

Frankly, we don’t understand this. Common sense tells us that cell phone use, texting and other distractions while operating a moving automobile pose a significant danger. When you stop and think about it, allowing such practices is ridiculous.

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