Distracted driving due to use of cell phones and text messaging is a documented menace on America’s roads. Federal data shows that nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 from motor vehicle accidents involving a distracted driver, and over 500,000 more were injured.
Research from the University of Utah has concluded that cell phone use while driving, whether it’s hands-free or not, is comparable to having a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 percent – the legal limit in most states.
Not surprisingly, then, states are attempting to respond to this veritable epidemic of distracted driving by passing laws attempting to limit cell phone use behind the wheel. Illinois is one of 30 states that have passed restrictions of various types on cell phone use and text messaging by drivers.
The Illinois law took effect in January 2010 and had two main parts. One part was to ban talking on cell phones while driving in construction and school zones. The other part banned texting while driving entirely.
With two weeks left in the year, Illinois state police reported that they had already issued 4,236 citations and 2,629 warnings on the construction and school zone portion of the law. The texting ban had produced another 929 citations and warnings.
This adds up to nearly 7,900 traffic stops to enforce the cell phone and texting restrictions. The total figure is surely much higher because the state police figures do not include citations or warnings issued by local (county or municipal) police agencies.
As important as legal restrictions are, law enforcement cannot tackle the huge societal problem of distracted driving on its own. As U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood noted recently, good laws and good enforcement have to go along with personal responsibility and appropriate use of technological solutions.
For example, text-blocking technology, which can disable cell-phones while cars are in motion, may be one way to use technology to prevent technological distractions in the first place. The Transportation Department is looking at the role that this technology may play going forward.
But Secretary LaHood is quite right that personal responsibility has to remain central. Even in an age of fancy gadgets, there is no substitute for common sense and sound judgment. What this means, for drivers, is willing to put away cell phones and other devices when they get behind the wheel and start the car.
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