Remnants of previous accidents litter the ground. Broken taillights and windshield glass glisten in the sunlight. A rearview mirror lies abandoned alongside the road. It is a beautiful clear day, the wind whistling through the overgrown grass in the nearby field where Joel’s car had landed. Several cars speed through the intersection, going well over the posted 45 mph. Other cars simply slow down at the stop light and continue through or completely neglect to stop at all. Joel recalls, “I remember the first time I came back here after the accident with the insurance adjuster. I looked around seeing glass from my windshield and broken pieces of my mom’s car. As we stood there for about 10 minutes discussing the accident we watched half a dozen cars neglect to stop at the light. Something has to be done. People just aren’t paying attention or just don’t care.”
Joel Delancy, a Garrett, Pennsylvania resident, was the victim of a distracted driving accident on December 3, 2007. A driver neglected to see two stop signs and double blinking lights on a clear day because he was switching his books-on-tape cassettes. The vehicle Joel was driving was T-boned and flipped several times before landing in a field. Joel was helicopter-lifted with a lacerated liver, spleen, and lung, which caused internal bleeding. He also had broken ribs, and many bruises and scratches. His two passengers, Matt Donaldson and Stephen Larue, were also taken by ambulance to the hospital with minor injuries.
While the boys did heal physically, the mental terror remained. Joel admits, “I was so angry when I found out that this accident was caused by a careless driver. You can see the stop lights for practically a quarter of a mile. He obviously was not paying attention for more than a few seconds. I almost lost my life and my passengers’ because of another’s negligent driving.” It took Joel several months to even drive past the accident site. The negligent driver was charged with reckless driving and failure to stop at a stop light and sign.
Delancy advises, “You must pay attention to the roadway and others. I did have passengers and the music on. However, as I approached the intersection, I saw him not even slowing down and started to react immediately. I counter steered, after being T-boned, away from a metal pole which could have killed us on impact. I remember hearing people saying that without our seat belts and my quick actions, we would have died. Always wear a seat belt; there is a reason they are put in your vehicle.”
Matt Donaldson, a passenger in that car, vividly recalls that day. He remembers, “We were just driving down the road and listening to Crossfade’s new song ‘I Never Meant To Be So Cold.’ We weren’t speeding and it was a clear December day. When we got hit and were flipping through the air, it felt like an eternity until we landed. We must have flipped several times. I just remember a slow motion feeling and really focusing on the song. It continued to play until we hit the ground and the engine stopped. It’s funny the way you remember things. Every time I hear that song, I go back to those seconds.” Matt, physically healed, also suffers the mental anguish that a traumatic event causes. It also took Matt a while to even ride past the accident scene. It is a moment that has changed his life. He will always wear his seat belt and be cautious on the roadway.
Distractions while driving are becoming ever more popular, increasing the risks for deadly consequences. Cell phones enable you to do everything from taking videos and pictures, checking e-mails, and text messaging to making calls while also creating a hazardous distraction when used on the roadway. Eighteen states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have created laws to ban texting while driving. Pennsylvania has not yet passed such a law. The intent is to avoid distractions that create vehicular accidents.
In a recent survey conducted among 80 students and faculty at Frostburg State University, nearly 96 percent of people said they had used a cell phone to make or receive a call while driving. Many people admitted that this is a fast paced world and one must multitask to get everything done. One said “I have a million things to do. I have to make calls while driving to get everything done.” Whether using the phone to talk while bored or to do business, this distracted driving can be a recipe for disaster. Some people are using hands free calling devices or having a passenger answer the phone. Others try to pull off the road or answer quickly and promise a returned call. Making and receiving phone calls was more of a problem than text messaging for those surveyed. However, text messaging seems to take the driver’s eyes off the roadway for a longer period of time.
Also, according to the same survey, almost 83 percent admitted to texting while driving. Many of the responses admitted to doing the deed, but also show regret or shame for it. One responder said, “I text while driving, but am trying to stop. I feel bad for doing it so often.” Many people said that they were working on not texting or using the cell while driving. Another responder stated, “I am working hard to stop this dangerous behavior.” Some admitted to texting only a few words to complete conversations. Others claimed to do so only when at a stop light or in stopped traffic. One responder claimed, “I only text while stopped in traffic. Sometimes the light changes, though, and I must finish the text while driving through the intersection.” Most responders stated that they used to text while driving, but since learning more of the dangers are trying to limit it. The most common distraction many see are others text messaging. 90 percent of the surveyed people felt that laws should be passed to make texting while driving illegal. One surveyed person admitted, “I want a law to be passed to make driving safer all around. However, I don’t know how often I would follow the law. It would be hard.”
Perhaps the best witnesses to the risky behaviors occuring on the roadway are other drivers. Michael Siciliano, liberal arts major at Frostburg State University, tries not to initiate phone calls and never text messages while driving. The senior from Lavale, Maryland, laughs and says, “I tend to look at texting while driving as kind of ridiculous. You do look at the cell phone and there is no way to keep your eyes on the road.”
Julia Vilece, a music management major at Frostburg State University, agrees that there is no way that you can pay attention to the road while texting. The junior from Ellicott City, Maryland, advises, “I just give my phone to my passenger. If you do that, then you aren’t playing with it. I just don’t do it because it is dangerous.”
Several people seemed to think that texting while driving is a bad idea, but really aren’t worried about it until something happens to their car. Twone Franklin, a mass communications major at Frostburg State University, says he doesn’t text while driving because he’s not a great texter, but does make and receive calls. The sophomore from Laurel, Maryland, admits, “I don’t worry about others. As long as they don’t hit my car, then I’m not worried about what they are doing. There shouldn’t be a law against this because people do need to get in touch with you sometimes when you are traveling.”
Doug Hersch, a mechanical engineering major at Frostburg State University, concurs that he doesn’t tend to worry about others. The junior, a commuter student from Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, says, “I don’t mind others using cell phones, if they can drive safely. But most people aren’t able to achieve this. Most people can’t multitask. But if they don’t hit my car, then I tend not to worry about the other drivers. There should be a law, but it’d be hard to follow. I talk on the cell phone all the time.”
John Difebo, a senior computer science major and commuter student from Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, agrees that there should be some type of law but that it would be hard to enforce. He says, “No outgoing data should be allowed; only incoming text messages should be read. You should be able to read the text, just not take the time to respond. A law would only be practical to enforce when checking the phone log after an accident does occur.”
Many organizations, including the American Automobile Association, are working to see these laws passed. Beverly Powell, director of communications for AAA East Central Pennsylvania, says, “As new technologies continue to develop they present more potential for distraction behind the wheel. These new distractions are dangerous for drivers of all ages, but are particularly hazardous of an inexperienced driver.” AAA hopes to pass such laws in all 50 states for drivers of all ages by the year 2013 as part of the “Heads up driving week: Try it for a week, do it for life” campaign which began on September 29, 2009. This week calls for the focusing of driving and avoiding distractions on the roadway. Powell also states, “AAA also feels it is important to educate the public through driver training, safety programs, and awareness campaigns on a broad range of distractions that may attract the driver’s focus away from the road.”
AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety aims to educate people about the dangerous consequences such distractions can create. The campaign is aimed at busy people who tend to multitask. The organization states that 8,000 crashes every day are connected to distracted driving, while also warning that using a cell phone while driving quadruples your risk of a crash. This foundation also offers tips for being a “heads up driver,” including stowing away all electronic devices.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, whose mission is to “Save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle related crashes,” has also created a two-day campaign to inform drivers of dangerous distractions. The NHTSA confirms that in 2008 on any given day, 80,000 cars were driven by people using a cell phone. There were also half a million injuries caused by a distracted driving accident in the year 2008. The two-day “Distracted Driving Summit”, held on September 30 - October 1, 2009, hoped to inform drivers of the under-recognized danger of using a cell phone or texting while operating a vehicle.
While Pennsylvania has no laws in effect yet, Maryland’s ban on texting while driving went into effect October 1, 2009. This law makes sending or receiving a text message while operating a vehicle illegal. The offense is considered secondary, meaning the driver must commit a primary violation such as speeding, running a stop sign, etc. before a police officer can pull the driver over. If convicted of this secondary offense, drivers will face a fine of up to $500. This law makes the activity a misdemeanor. The Maryland State Highway Administration recently released statistics that included 20,000 injuries related to distracted driving every year in the state.
The Maryland Highway Safety Administration also provides research that has compared texting while driving to a blood alcohol content of 0.16 percent; double the legal limit. The goal of this law is to prevent crashes and injuries and save lives. The organization feels it very important to inform motorists of the dangerous consequences associated with inattentive driving.
Lora Rakowski, of the Office of Communications for the Maryland State Highway Administration, adds, “Distracted driving can be deadly and the new texting ban while driving delivers an important message to the public that driving requires one's full attention. It's just about impossible to write and send a text message while following a key tenet of safe driving: keeping both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road.”
To type out the text message, the driver must physically look down at the phone and take his/her eyes off the road for several seconds depending on the message size. The Maryland State Highway Administration website states that in the one second you take your eyes off the road while driving 65 mph, you will have traveled 100 feet. In those 100 feet of distracted driving, a number of complications could occur resulting in wrecks, injuries, or even fatalities. Since 93 percent of all accidents are caused by driver error, the Maryland State Highway Administration affirms that crashes are not accidents, but rather preventable and predictable.
Many car insurers are also urging the limiting of the use of cell phones and texting while driving. State Farm Insurance lists talking on the cell phone as a major distraction, especially for inexperienced teen drivers. State Farm also reports that nine out of ten teens commonly see other teens using the cell phone while driving. Sixty-six percent of teens also admit that they care about their parents’ opinions on cell phone use in the car. State Farm Insurance affirms that 25 percent of all crashes in the United States are caused by distractions, including the use of cell phones and text messages. However it can be difficult for an insurance agency to actually determine what caused accidents. Bryan Bozovich, State Farm Insurance agent in Somerset, PA, says, “From an agent’s perspective it is difficult to determine the extent to which mobile devices contribute to automobile accidents. The reason is that the majority of accidents that involve these types of distractions as the main cause of the accident are usually not reported to us in that manner. I would assume that there are a considerable number of motor vehicle accidents that are caused by these devices, but go undetected by insurance carriers due to the facts or cause of the accident being misrepresented at the time we take the initial loss report.” Insurance agencies such as State Farm may have difficulties determining if cell phones played a role, but do aim to inform their clients about these dangers to prevent accidents.
It’s important to note that while cell phones do seem to be the major distraction on the roadway presently, there are other risky behaviors that also cause accidents such as Joel Delancy’s. Distractions range from eating and drinking in the car, a behavior done for many years, to using Car GPS units or Car DVD players in the backseats. As the world becomes a faster paced place, people feel the pressing urge to multitask. Women are seen doing their hair and makeup going 65 mph down the interstate. Parents console children in the backseat, handing them toys or food, taking their eyes off the road for several seconds. There are always sights around the driver that are beyond his/her control such as construction zones, vehicle accidents, and scenery that also pose hazards. Each time a driver gets in the vehicle distractions can occur beyond his/her control or be created that could result in dangerous consequences.
Of those surveyed, many people wrote that they have seen other drivers eating, drinking, doing their makeup and hair, consoling children, and of course, using their cell phones. One astounding act that several people reported seeing was people reading books or papers in their laps. Some people recall drivers reading entire novels while looking up every few seconds at the roadway, making driving their second priority at hand.
Whatever the cause, distractions should be kept to a minimum. With technology ever increasing, cell phone usage and text messaging are creating a dangerous recipe for the roadway. Still other distractions are also dangerous such as eating and drinking, reading, playing with the radio or cassettes, and observing your surroundings. With eighteen states passing laws banning text messaging and many more working to do so, it is obvious that this distraction is being viewed as a very risky behavior. Drivers should buckle up, eliminate the distractions, and make driving their number one priority because distractions can, in fact, lead to dire consequences.
Delancy looks back now on the accident and states, “Everyone makes mistakes while driving. You try to be as cautious as possible. I’m a lot more cautious now. I was 16 when that happened and it gave me a life-changing experience. I understand mistakes on the roadway, but people must realize that one split second could have changed all three of our lives or even killed us.”