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AS I SEE IT

Posted 8/26/09 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Who would you feel safer riding in an automobile, with a driver who has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent which is the minimum alcohol level to be cited for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in North Dakota and most other states, or a person texting on a cell phone?
If you said you would feel safer driving with someone who could be cited by law enforcement officials for DUI, you might be crazy. But you would also be right.
Thanks to modern technology, motorists today can cruise down the road chatting or texting on their cell phones, surf the web on their computers or Blackberries, watch movies and plug in new destinations on their GPS navigation systems. And they can do all that while they are fixing their hair or makeup, reading a newspaper or book or even eating a meal and still manage to shift lanes in traffic and get to where they are going.
Drivers today are literally being driven to distraction with all of the electronics that they have in their vehicles. And the number of motor vehicle accidents and fatalities associated with these distractions, especially those caused by people using cell phones, has finally caught the attention of many state and federal legislators.
And if the studies that are being done are a true indicator of the dangers involved with the use of cell phones by drivers of automobiles, it is time for everyone to be concerned.
What are the studies showing?
• Drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.
• A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cell phone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.
• Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a study, based on researchers’ observations of drivers, suggesting that at any time during daylight hours in 2007, 11 percent or 1.8 million drivers were using a cell phone.
• The highway safety administration estimates that drivers using a hand-held device are at 1.3 times greater risk of a crash or near crash, and at three times the risk when dialing, compared with others who are simply driving.
While no one can put a concrete number on the number of fatalities that are the direct result of cell phone usage by drivers, it can be surmised that the largest number of fatalities are from the most common users of the cell phones - our youth.
And these sobering statistics are finally forcing some states (17 to date) to enact legislation banning the use of texting by automobile drivers. Even the federal government has gotten into the act when last month, the Senate introduced legislation that would require all states to impose a ban on texting while driving.
Under the federal government’s proposal, states would be given two years to outlaw texting and e-mailing by drivers in moving vehicles or they would lose 25 percent of their federal highway money. And the loss of those highway dollars is going to make the state legislatures across this country enact the new laws just as they did when the federal government threatened to withhold road funds unless states passed laws requiring the use of safety belts and raising state drinking ages to 21.
We can all argue correctly that the use of cell phones or texting is our right. But that personal right to use a cell phone can not and should not take precedence when we become a driver of a motor vehicle.
Texting and driving a motor vehicle simply don’t mix. Banning the use of texting while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is a no-brainer.