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Distractions are a driving cause of car accidents

Norwich Guidon Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 12:04

The average American car tips the scales at two tons and travels at an average speed of 65 miles per hour on the highways.

If something goes wrong, a two-ton vehicle traveling that fast sounds like a disastrous physics project. However, automobile companies and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have done their best to make driving a safe and practical way of transportation.

But car manufacturers and the NHTSA are struggling with what to do about the impact distracted drivers have on auto safety.

According to the NHTSA, in 2009, 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roadways. Sixteen percent of these fatal accidents included reports of distracted driving. Meanwhile, “an estimated additional 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes that were reported to have involved distracted driving.”

Ten students from Norwich, between the ages of 18 and 21 were interviewed about distractions while driving. Questions included phone, alcohol, miscellaneous usage and even sex while driving.

Six of the 10 students said they have engaged in cellular phone usage while behind the wheel; two drove manual shift vehicles. Nine students said using a cell phone was illegal in their state; the tenth did so while it was legal.

People who engage in these habits admit to its dangers but do so anyway.

“I knows it’s dangerous that I drive and text,” said Anthony, a sophomore who requested anonymity. “Even if it’s illegal, I’ll still do it.”

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html), nine states have banned all handheld electronic devices and made infractions a primary offense. This means you can be pulled over for using a handheld device and ticketed at anytime.

Regulations on novice drivers (ages 16-18 depending on state) and school bus drivers are more strict for reasons of safety. Thirty states ban all cell phone usage for novice drivers and 19 ban bus drivers while passengers are present.

According to the NHTSA, the group with the “greatest proportion of distracted drivers” was those under the age of 20.

Vermont’s ban on electronic devices includes only novice drivers and school bus drivers. The use of cell phones for both groups is a primary offense.

There have been several advancements in technology, such as apps for cell phones and installations for car radios that attempt to lessen driving distractions when it comes to cell phones.

“My parents installed a Bluetooth Sony Stereo in my truck for Christmas,” said Tom, a sophomore who requested anonymity. “It makes talking on the phone much easier, especially when I’m driving back home to Jersey.”

Technology however can’t help with drinking and driving. Seven of the 10 students admitted to being under the influence and getting behind the wheel. All seven students were also underage.

Thousands of people receive driving under the influence (DUI) tickets every year, a crime that brings suspension of license and hundreds of dollars in fines. Norwich is no exception.

“I made the mistake of drinking and driving last year,” said Greg a sophomore who requested anonymity. “I lost a three-year Army ROTC scholarship; it was devastating to me and my family.”

Several Norwich students were involved in drinking and driving accidents resulting in injuries and a death in the fall 2011 semester.

But studies show that distracted driving is just as dangerous as DUI,

“Myth busters did a show on drinking a driving,” said Mitch Pryzbocki, a sophomore communications major from Middletown, N.Y. “They concluded that drinking and driving, and texting and driving, were equally dangerous behind the wheel.”

Students cite experiences of friends at the wheel completely turning their attention away from driving.

“My friend drove me home from work, and wrote a check while driving,” said John Quinlan, a senior communications major from Manasquan, N.J. “She warned me that she was going to drive with her knees, and I almost had a heart attack.”

Eating and drinking while driving is risky too. Jack, a sophomore who requested anonymity, is guilty of eating lunch while driving. His description included holding a burger in one hand and the drink in the other. His knees were used to hold the steering wheel.

According to the NHTSA, the percentage of crashes involving distracted drivers and fatalities has increased between 2005 and 2009. Crashes have gone up six percent, distracted driving incidents have increased by four percent and fatalities have increased by six percent.

A two-ton car moving at over 65 miles per hour doesn’t sound very safe – especially if the operator driving is distracted with surfing the internet, reading the newspaper, or putting on make-up while driving on highway, all of which were cited on the website of the law firm Edgar Snyder & Associates as actions that caused accidents.

Manufacturers and law enforcement can only do so much to keep the public safe. Safe driving requires good decision-making and full attention of the drivers.

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