Driving Distracted

By Megan Ward

Jenna* was cruising to school for the first time in her brand new Volkswagen Jetta, taking a new route, when her built-in GPS stopped working. Instead of pulling over, she took out her phone to check a map on her iPhone. As she was driving downhill, picking up speed, she didn’t realize she had swerved into oncoming traffic. Before she had time to react, she smashed head on into, a large pick-up truck.

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the leading cause of death in teenage years is car crashes. Statistics show that around 10 teenagers die a day from distracted driving accidents. A study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 80 percent of accidents and 65 percent of “near-crashes” occur when the driver is distracted.

Although California law now prohibits the use of cell phones for drivers under the age of 18 and prohibits texting and the use of handheld devices for drivers over 18, accidents continue to occur because of this problem.

“After the crash, I was sore all over and everything hurt,” Jenna said. “I could barely walk or even bend down. My back was aching so badly, it hurt to even lie down. It took a while to fully recover. I had bandages on both my wrists for some time, too. The whole thing was just awful.”

Car and Driver Magazine has even documented that the reaction time of a person approaching a red light while texting will begin braking about 60 feet later than a person who is legally drunk at .08 breath alcohol content level.

Luckily for Jenna, her airbags deployed, and she managed to escape the accident with only bad bruising from the seatbelt and cuts that stretched from her chest to her neck and a first offense fine.

Tickets for using a cellular device begin at $20, the base fine for the first infraction, and $50 for repeat offenders. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, after penalties and court fees, the tickets usually cost over $140, and different situations can lead to higher penalties. Although the offense is reportable, no points are added to a driver’s license. If a driver accumulates enough points from traffic law violations, his or her license can be suspended.

However, if the driver is a repeat offender, the driver in question can face more serious penalties, like suspension of their license at the discretion of a judge. Many accidents occur at traffic lights and intersections when the driver takes out his or her phone to send a message while the vehicle is slowing down or stopped.

Rebecca Aaron ’13 was in the car with her mom when a distracted driver hit them from an opposite lane.

“He wasn’t looking at oncoming traffic,” she said. “It was eye-opening to see that an experienced driver didn’t even look up to see a sign that said he couldn’t turn left when he turned right into our car.”

Elana Meer ’13 said it is difficult to not answer a call from a parent.

“When my mom calls, I feel the need to pick up,” she said. “But I am always safe and try to pull over if possible or put my phone on speaker. Parents worry sometimes if you don’t pick up, which makes it more difficult to ignore the call.”

To combat this, many cell phone carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless and insurance companies such as Allstate are taking initiative and starting campaigns against distracted driving. Companies have reduced the prices on hands-free devices, making them more accessible and affordable. Incentives on insurance policies reward careful driving, lowering the price of insurance for drivers who do not have any reportable offenses within their first two years of driving.

Along with these campaigns, new cell phone applications are being created that can stop a driver from receiving or send calls or texts messages while in motion. These programs, such as iZup, Textblocker and Phoneguard, can be programmed to send an automatic message to whomever is trying to reach the driver informing them that he or she is driving. Another devise, Cellcontrol, is a piece of hardware that can be inserted into the OBD port under the steering wheel of a car. This will send a signal to the phone when the car is in motion and put up a blocking screen so that no phone calls or text messages, except for emergency calls to 911, can be made.

“I never thought I’d total my brand new car, but look what happened,” Jenna said. “Accidents can happen within two seconds and the consequences are very severe. Don’t think you’re invincible on the road because anything can happen.”   

 

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