We all like diversions that briefly take us away from a boring or repetitive routine. Maybe that's why the cell phone has become a necessity in our life—it is the ultimate diversion, AKA “entertainment” tool. It has enabled us to do many things at once and that aids many on-the-job demands, prompting a new must-have skill called “multitasking,” the ability to do several things at once. But multitasking while driving can be deadly. It joins all the other distractions people do in their cars and trucks when they should be focused on driving.
We all like diversions that briefly take us away from a boring or repetitive routine. Maybe that’s why the cell phone has become a necessity in our life—it is the ultimate diversion, AKA “entertainment” tool. It has enabled us to do many things at once and that aids many on-the-job demands, prompting a new must-have skill called “multitasking,” the ability to do several things at once. But multitasking while driving can be deadly. It joins all the other distractions people do in their cars and trucks when they should be focused on driving.
A research monograph prepared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states “reading or sending text or email messages while driving and other distracted driving behaviors lead to more than 420,000 injuries and more than 3,100 traffic deaths every year in the United States. It further states “simply knowing the risk of distracted driving has not yet translated into reducing the behavior.”
Maybe that’s because as relatively intelligent human beings, we all think we can multi-task well. But that’s a myth according to a study published in the Psychomomic Bulletin & Review 22(3), 876-883 in 2014. The authors claim a small segment of the population (2.5 percent to be exact) are made up of “supertaskers” with the ability to “dual-task” without an apparent degradation in performance. That leaves out the other 97.5 percent of the population that are applying makeup, eating, tending to a fussy baby in the backseat or . . . cell phone texting while operating a moving vehicle—often at high speeds.
The NHTSA report states “a car traveling at 55 miles per hour covers more than 80 feet every second. Sending or reading a text message can take the driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. Sending or reading a text message while driving a vehicle at 55 miles per hour means that the vehicle will travel the length of a football field without any visual guidance.”
The research document goes further. “Reportedly, nearly one-third of all U.S. drivers 18 to 64 years-old, read or send text or email messages while driving.
That’s a concern for groups such as the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, whose main concern is safety for all those sharing the roads. According to their membership surveys, over two-thirds of their members strongly support distracted driving and anti-texting laws, while less than 3 percent oppose them.
In Missouri, it is only illegal to text and drive for those drivers 21 years-old and younger.
Missouri is just one of four states with no text-and-drive ban for all drivers, though it is not for the lack of safety-oriented groups trying to pass legislation.
A legislation ban on text and drive for all ages hasn’t gained enough traction to pass the state House, much less the Senate. Those opposed to the legislation feel that government is already too intrusive on citizens just going about their day-to-day lives. That and distraction laws already exist.
“The discussion around these bills is in part, protecting people,” said Mo. Rep. Jason Chipman, District 120 (east side of Phelps County). “But at some point, there is the personal responsibility part.”
In the latest state legislative session, HB 293 called the “Fair Passenger Safety Act” sponsored by Rep. Galen Higdon (R-Buchanan/Platte Counties), recently passed the House by a vote of 103 to 46, but it stalled in the Senate. The bill was restricted only to commercial drivers carrying passengers from talking on hand-held phones while driving and from reading, sending or typing messages on hand-held electronic devices. It was mainly a response to recent legislation that allowed commercial transportation operators like Uber and Lyft to operate in Missouri.
“I voted against it,” said Rep. Chipman. “It is basically unenforceable. Putting more work on our prosecutors when they are already overloaded as it is, doesn’t seem like a very prudent thing to do.”
Rep. Chipman doesn’t feel a law—even one that encompasses all drivers, regardless of age, is not a deterrent. He says people will still text—they will just be aware not to make it so obvious.
Rolla Police Chief Sean Fagan believes a ban on texting while driving for all Missouri drivers would be beneficial. He says it’s a safety measure to protect other people.
He notes the current law helps but allows everybody else to continue the dangerous habit of texting while driving.
“The law definitely needs to be changed,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of accidents and we think it is people texting or due to inattention; but unless they admit it or unless we find the phone sitting on the front seat and they’re halfway through a text message, we can’t prove it.”
He noted that metadata can be taken from a phone, but probable cause has to be established first.
“We have to go through the courts and get a search warrant,” he said.
Those opposed to the legislation feel that government is already too intrusive on citizens just going about their day-to-day lives.
“[Wearing] seat belts are a personal responsibility,” said Chief Fagan. “It’s against the law to drive without a seatbelt, but we can’t stop you if we see you without a seatbelt. We have to stop you for another reason. Texting is different. If you’re driving without a seatbelt and you have an accident, the only person that’s going to get hurt is you. But if you’re driving and texting, there’s a good chance you’re going to hurt somebody else (as well as yourself), so it’s not a personal responsibility. It’s a responsibility to all your other drivers and citizens out there.”
Whether [texting and driving] is a huge problem, it’s hard to say, because unless people that had an accident admit that they were texting or playing with their phone, we can’t prove that that’s what caused it. We have a lot of accidents that we write down, “possibly due to inattention,” but there’s no way to prove what actually caused it.”
“We’re pushing hard to get legislation passed through the Missouri Police Chief Association,” said the Chief. “We just have to get our legislators to agree with us on this.”
Sgt. Cody Fulkerson, spokesperson for the Missouri Highway Patrol cuts right to the chase. He talks within the broad category of “distractions,” of which the cell phone is just one of the many. He says MHP has put out a new video that targets distractive driving called “Don’t violate the trust.”
“All of our highways are 25 feet wide,” he explains. “You, the driver has a 12 foot lane and the oncoming traffic has a 12 foot lane.”
He says everybody tends to drive their car towards the center of the road, even though the law says to drive on the far right in order to stay away from the center line. He says oncoming traffic will vary in heights, weights and lengths and because everybody tends to drive towards the center of the road, “you’re less than 18 inches from a head-on collision.”
“When we say ‘don’t violate the trust,’ you are putting 100 percent trust in the other driver that they are sober, had enough sleep, that they’re not taking prescription medicines that impair their driving ability, eating potato chips, putting on eyeliner or daydreaming,” he says. “You’re trusting them that they will stay on their side of the road and they’re putting that same trust in you.”
One local car dealership is acting on the “don’t ext and drive” admonition by drawing awareness within a promotion. Kingdom Kia in Rolla has been collecting written pledges (or electronic signatures on-line) to not text and drive. By signing a pledge and attending an area dealership promotion, the driver is entered into a drawing to win a free car or cash payment, service or car washes. Janet Parry, with Kingdom Kia says awareness of the dangers of texting and driving is near and dear to the West family, the owners of the dealership. “They (the drivers) are our customers and we care about their safety,” she said.
“The only way we’re going to get traffic fatalities reduced is to get drivers to do their part,” says Sgt. Fulkerson. “We are now over 300 traffic deaths in Missouri and we’re not even into full summer yet. If everybody does their part and drives safely, that is what is going to reduce the fatality rate.”