Texting big risk for drivers
Text-messaging on a cell phone while driving is associated with the highest risk of all cell phone related tasks, according to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study released last week. The study supplies new data about cell phone use and driving distraction. The VTTI found that for car drivers, talking or listening to someone on a cell phone while driving made the risk of crash 1.3 times higher than non-distracted driving. However, for truck drivers, or heavier vehicles, text-messaging while driving made the risk of crash 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving.
On Wednesday, July 29, the "Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting" Act (ALERT), a bill that would prohibit all car and truck drivers from text-messaging and emailing while driving, was introduced in the U.S. Senate. If passed, states that do not enact laws banning text messaging within two years of the bill's passing could stand to lose 25 percent of federal highway funds, which is the same as Congress did to get states to raise the drinking age to 21 in the 1980s. Noncompliant states would be able to recover that funding once they met federal standards to ban texting by drivers.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Transportation will soon meet with safety experts, and other concerned parties, about the hazards associated with texting and using handheld cell phones on the road. According to the NY Times, the desire for transportation officials to convene is due to the results of the VTTI's study, mainly the dangers of sending text messages while driving.
"It's insane," said Massachusetts state senator Robert O'Leary, whose district includes Dukes County, on the perils of texting while driving. "It happens and it's bad, but frankly, the whole cell phone issue is something that we're going to have to come to grips with."
Though Sen. O'Leary said he would be surprised if a texting ban was passed at the federal level, he thinks that the issue should be addressed on a state-by-state basis. When questioned about the effectiveness of a statewide handheld cell phone ban while on the road, the senator admitted, "It's difficult, because I'm an offender on that regard. I talk on the phone while I drive."
Representative Tim Madden, whose district also includes the Island, said that he would support state legislation to ban handheld cell phones while driving. "I bought myself a hands-free device," he said. "I found myself putting my life in danger and someone else's as well."
Rep. Madden said he did agree with Sen. O'Leary that a ban on texting would be beneficial to driver safety. "As the father of teenage daughters, I think that a ban on texting could only help," he said.
In Massachusetts, there is currently no law that bans drivers from text messaging, and the only handheld cell phone ban in place is for school bus drivers. On May 21, a bill that would ban texting while driving was approved by the state Senate as a part of the state budget, but it was later overridden by the House on the grounds that the legislation had nothing to do with the state's budget. Since then, 15 bills have been proposed in the State Senate that would ban, and/or limit, text messaging and handheld cell phone use while driving.
At present, five states (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Washington) have passed legislation for a handheld cell phone ban for all drivers. Fourteen states (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington), as well as Washington D.C., have passed legislation to ban text-messaging for all drivers.
While no state completely bans all types of cell phone use for drivers, many prohibit cell phone usage by certain demographics within the population. For instance, Tennessee has a text-messaging ban for all drivers regardless of age, but only prohibits handheld cell phone use for school bus drivers and novice drivers.
According to local law enforcement, distracted driving is a problem on the Vineyard, but cell phones are rarely tied to reported motor vehicle accidents.
Tisbury Police Chief Daniel Hanavan said Friday that he couldn't recall any accidents reported as a result of cell phone use, but he said that talking on a cell phone while driving should be limited. "I definitely would have to agree that texting while driving is not a good idea," Officer Hanavan said.
Sergeant James Morse of the Oak Bluffs police department said that he has noticed young people text messaging while driving, and it has contributed to the Island-wide problem of distracted driving. "I've read that a person texting is the same as a person with a blood alcohol level of .10," he said. "You see people doing it here and they are drifting into another lane, or entering a school zone at 40 miles per hour because their head is down."
Though Officer Morse said that drivers should know better than to text while driving, he does not think it is so much of a problem on the Vineyard that it would require prohibition. "Personally, I would rather see seatbelt law get passed than a text messaging law," he said.