As readers of my column know by now, I’m 100 percent behind efforts to stop distracted driving in all modes of transportation and I won’t apologize for it no matter how many of you write and tell me that it’s your right to talk or text while driving. I don’t believe that stopping the use of cell phones in moving vehicles is something that is an infraction of a person’s rights, the use of them should have never been allowed to begin with but technology is moving so fast that laws and regulations can’t keep up.
If you haven’t already, take a look at some of the “Faces of Distracted Driving” videos at www.distraction.gov. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood launched this new program Nov. 16. These are very touching videos from some of the people who have lost loved ones because someone was using a cell phone while driving. These are senseless deaths that would never have happened if drivers couldn’t freely use cell phones in moving vehicles.
Sure people die every day on this nation’s highways and streets, but there are also numerous agencies, studies, groups, people, and so forth with the sole purpose to stop tragic deaths on our roads and now in the 21st Century we’ve added devices that cause more problems.
While watching the “Faces of Distracted Driving” videos I wondered how many times they had to stop and let each speaker compose themselves while reliving the nightmare that each of their family members endured.
A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) commissioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration using a naturalistic data set where drivers’ real-world behavior was recorded by video cameras, showed the odds of a truck driver crashing while dialing a cell phone to be 5.44 times more likely than if not doing said action. Reaching for a cell phone would be 7.60 times more likely to cause a crash than not reaching.
In the same study the odds ratio across all vehicles (was not calculated separately for large trucks) for texting, e-mailing, or accessing the Internet was 163.6. That means when someone is texting, e-mailing, or accessing the Internet they are 163.6 times more likely to crash. Even for the person who says they can text and drive just fine at the same time think about the drivers with whom you share the road, they are 163.6 times more likely to crash into you while texting, etc., than they would if they were not allowed to do such a thing.
In the often cited 2009 Olson et al. study (also conducted by VTTI) which used only tractor-trailer drivers the ratio was 23.24 when texting, e-mailing, or accessing the Internet.
Remember, this VTTI study reflects actual driving situations and real-world daily pressures since the data was collected over a one-year period and was collected using DriveCam, which captured video of the driver’s face and forward road view from fleets in real-world operations, according to VTTI.
It is important to note, according to VTTI, that this observational study evaluated associations between various non-driving related tasks (such as cell phone sub-tasks) and involvement in a safety-critical event. The study did not evaluate cause and effect (i.e., whether cell phone use caused a safety-critical event), but rather showed which non-driving tasks increased the odds of commercial truck and bus drivers being involved in a safety-critical event if they engaged in those non-driving tasks while driving.
“As has been found in other naturalistic driving studies, non-driving tasks that take the driver’s eyes away from the roadway had the greatest risk,” VTTI stated.
VTTI attributed the amount of visual distraction as the key difference between high-risk and low-risk non-driving talks.
“The take-away message is that drivers must keep their eyes on the road and tasks or activities that divert eyes from the road are risky,” noted Rich Hanowski, director of VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety.
A few caveats mentioned regarding the study: because these data are used by fleet safety managers to provide feedback to drivers with the goal of changing risky behaviors to increase safety, the data sets may be skewed from normative driving data as safety managers have attempted to alter unsafe driver behaviors. This translates into potentially less risky behavior being recorded in the study; and the fleets using the onboard safety monitoring system reflects a group of safety conscious carrier companies which means prevalence of tertiary tasks may, in fact, be more pronounced in the larger population.
In addition, data was collected during a time frame when intense media attention was devoted to the dangers of distracted driving. This media attention may have influenced safety manager and/or driver behavior, but again, this would translate into potentially less risky behavior being recorded in this study.
For those drivers who think it’s your right to text or talk on a phone while driving, please go online and watch the “Faces of Distracted Driving” videos and then think about how you’d feel if one of those videos was about someone you killed because you were distracted while driving.
Studies prove time and again that using a cell phone for any reason while driving is a dangerous activity.
As they say at the end of each vide “Distracted driving kills. Safe driving starts with you.”
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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