There was a recent motor vehicle accident in the greater Phoenix area this July. It only involved one car. The driver died at the scene. It was reported in the police investigation to likely be the result of distracted driving. She was the daughter of a friend of mine. She was only twenty-two.
Over 90% of automobile accidents involve human error. Distracted driving injured 391,000 and claimed the lives of 3,450 people nationally in 2016. The US Department of Transportation reports that ten percent of fatal injuries and fifteen percent of injury accidents were distraction related, although the National Safety Council attributes up to 27% of crashes a result of cell phone distraction. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that the fatal crash rate for teens is three times greater than for drivers age 20 and over. As well, driver distraction is responsible for more than 58% of teen crashes according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Distractions are categorized as three types: manual, visual and cognitive. Manual distractions are when your hands are removed from the steering wheel. Visual are when you focus your eyes away from the road. Cognitive are when your mind wanders away from the task of driving. Some examples of manual and visual distraction include reaching for objects, eating or drinking while driving, adjusting the radio or stereo, smoking or vaping, and putting on makeup. Carrying on a conversation with passengers can serve as a cognitive distraction. Texting involves all three categories.
A study at the University of Utah reports that people are as impaired when they drive talking on a cell phone as when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood alcohol limit of .08%. It also reports cell phone users are 5.36 times more likely to get into an accident than an undistracted driver. Text messaging increases the likelihood of a crash or near crash by 23 times. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about five seconds which, at a speed of 55 mph, is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field without looking.
Arizona is one of only three states that do not have a statewide ‘texting while driving’ law. There is, however, A.R.S. 28-701 providing for a “speed that is reasonable and prudent for the circumstances” that may deter people from using cell phones while driving. In July 2014, the Flagstaff City Council passed the local ordinance 9-01-001-0013 – “Use of wireless communications device while vehicle or bicycle is in motion prohibited”. If you drive around our fair city, you may notice that many drivers are either not aware or choose not to obey these laws. You can, nonetheless, make the right choice – be a good role model, obey the law, make sensible choices, and not become a statistic. The call or text you make or receive while driving is likely not a matter of life and death, but the distraction of your action certainly is.
Bradford Croft, DO
East Flagstaff Family Medicine