by Tim O’Hare
The issue of distracted driving and the use of cell phones while driving has become a very political issue. Numerous studies over the years have shown that even the use of hands-free calling while driving increases the risk of an accident. Surprisingly, state lawmakers are doing little about it.
Despite the recommendations of the NHTSA, Texas lawmakers have done little to crack down on distracted driving, other than banning the use of cell phones in school zones.
Research released in 2009 found that motorists who are talking on a cell phone while driving are just as likely to cause an accident as someone with a blood alcohol level of .08.
While the use of hands-free devices may slightly reduce the risk of accident, a driver’s attention is still taken off the road when talking on the phone, hands-free or not. In 2008, the American Automobile Association (AAA) released a statement that hands-free devices provided drivers with a false sense of security. AAA studies show the use of a cell phone while driving increases a driver’s risk of crashing by up to four times. According to Peter Kissinger, CEP of the AAA Foundation, the use of a hands-free device does not decrease the risk of crashing as it “impairs your reaction time to critical events and increases your crash risk about the same as if you were using a hand-held phone.”
While the use of a cell phone while driving is not entirely prohibited in Texas, distracted driving can result in significant fines or jail sentence, especially when serious injury or death results from the accident. In 2009, a woman from Humble, Texas was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 10 years probation, a $10,000 fine, 400 hours of community service and was ordered to pay for the funeral of a man who was killed in an accident she caused while using her cell phone.
Distracted driving due to texting or talking on the phone while driving was the cause of more than 16,000 deaths nationwide in just six years. The question is not whether the use of cell phones while driving contributes to car wrecks and wrongful death, but rather why aren’t lawmakers doing more to eliminate such a hazard?