Yesterday, while stopped at a red light, instead of staring at the light impatiently waiting for it to change, I found myself watching the other lanes. I watched as the driver perpendicular to where I was stopped made a left turn in front of me, one hand on the wheel, and the other hand holding up her cell phone. After she passed, a van pulled up n the lane beside me. I glanced over and also saw that driver holding her cell phone. It makes me wonder: is distracted driving becoming the new social norm?
As a society, we’re glued to our cellular phones. At family gatherings during the holidays, I noticed that everyone had their cell phones on the table right next to them, except when they using the device to text or check e-mails. Is there something wrong with me, for leaving it in my purse, with a ring loud enough that I can hear it ring in the event of an emergency? Are we that bored with everything that doesn’t involve a touch screen, or has mobile social networking given us the neurotic compulsion to constantly know what everyone else is doing?
We let our phones distract us from life. It’s now more important to play with our mobile devices than respectfully provide attention to our relatives during annual traditions. But we shouldn’t let our lives pass us by because we’re distracted by a phone, especially when we are behind the wheel.
In November, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett passed a ban on Texting While Driving that will go into effect in March. Unfortunately, this ban applies to texting while driving only. It does not prevent drivers from talking on their cell phone while driving. The City of Philadelphia does have a weakly enforced ban on talking on a hand-held device while driving, but that ban is set to expire in March.
Texting was originally planned to be a secondary offense, meaning a fine could be given only if the driver was stopped for another, more serious offense. But thanks to some strong Safe Driving Advocates texting will be a serious offense. Under SB 314, text messaging while behind the wheel will be subject to primary enforcement, which allows law officers to stop and cite offenders for that reason alone and fine them a $50 violation. So, as a driver, if you are spotted texting while driving, you can be pulled over and fined.
In addition to this legislation, a new ban went into effect the first week of 2012 prohibiting commercial drivers, such as truckers and bus drivers, from using hand-held devices while driving. This means no texting and no talking, unless a hands-free, device is being used.
While it is disappointing that no law has been passed prohibiting the average driver from talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving, the law against texting, and the ban for commercial drivers are small yet significant steps in creating safer roadways and putting an end to distracted driving.
Four out of Five auto accidents across the country are caused by a distracted driver. In 2010 alone, there were over 6,000 fatalities caused by distracted drivers. That’s 6,000 lives that could have been saved if the person behind the wheel had been paying attention.
Unfortunately, distractions are always going to be part of life. It’s only human for our thoughts to wander away from the task at hand. As drivers, there are so many things that we need to pay attention to and so many things that can distract us that are not under our control. For your safety and the safety of others, avoid unnecessary distractions and put away your phones when you’re behind the wheel.
For more information on Distracted Driving please visit www.endDD.org.