Officials explore link between phones, accidents

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Doug Brown's eyebrows furrowed when he was slightly bumped by another driver while en route to downtown Augusta a couple of weeks ago.

The cause: a driver distracted while talking on a cell phone.

It was not the first time someone distracted by a cell phone had made his commute a pain.

"It's so annoying when people get on their phones while they're driving," Mr. Brown said. "People should have enough common sense to know when to use it and when not to."

Mr. Brown's common sense theory reflects the sentiment of local, statewide and national law enforcement. Besides the annoyance for other drivers, those who drive and use their cell phones are also considered a danger on the road.

According to a 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, inattentive drivers, which include those on cell phones, account for 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes.

Cars have basically become a second home for drivers on the go, said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. With the increasing number of cell phones and other technological advances, such as iPods, BlackBerrys, computers and global positioning systems, there are even more distractions, he said.

"Our vehicles are becoming just another place to check e-mail and catch up on phone calls," Mr. Rader said. "If this continues to happen, we're going to have more crashes involving distractions."

Proving that technology distractions cause wrecks is problematic, Mr. Rader said. Unless self-reported, law enforcement will likely have a hard time determining that the use of GPS, iPods and other devices is a factor in accidents, he said.

Of the potential distractions, cell phones are the most common.

With more than 236 million people subscribing to cell phone service as of May, compared to 4.3 million in 1990, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, it's clear that cell phones have become an essential part of modern life, said Jim Shuler, a spokesman for the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety. Despite the distraction problems, cell phones have an important role.

"They've helped interrupt crimes, respond to Amber alerts and even been helpful in the golden hour of getting medical help," Mr. Shuler said. "You can't just do a blanket thing where you eliminate all cell phones all the time."

Text messaging is another part of cell phone technology, Mr. Shuler said. Drivers, young and old, are talking or typing on their phones through text messages while driving, but studies still lump cell phone use in with other distractions, Mr. Shuler said.

"Cell phones overshadow, because the length of time you're actually changing a radio station is such a quick thing," Richmond County sheriff's Maj. Richard Weaver said. "Folks are getting on cell phones and having conversations at length."

The sheriff's office does not categorize cell phone use as a cause for a wreck, he said.

Georgia bans only school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving, Mr. Shuler said. Many bills have been proposed in the Georgia Legislature, but none has been passed.

Washington, Utah, California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have all banned the use of speaking on hand-held cell phones, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Few studies have been conducted comparing driving behaviors in these states before and after the laws took effect, said Bob Dallas, the director of the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety. Until more studies are conducted, many states likely will not ban cell phone use while driving, he said.

Mr. Rader says laws will not solve all the problems with distracted drivers. In 2003, his agency conducted a study of New York drivers a year after a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving was enacted. After a brief decline, New Yorkers returned to their usual habits, he said.

Erin Meeker, of Augusta, said she drives and talks on the phone, but not for longer than five minutes. Using her cell phone likely distracts her as much as adjusting her radio dial.

"I think it is a risk, but it's not the only risk," Ms. Meeker said. "I think they'd have to compare talking on the phone to other things before they made any laws."

Increasingly, states will adopt cell phone bans, but it's still unclear what it will take to drive the message to motorists insistent upon taking their technology on the road, Mr. Rader said.

"People say your car is basically an extension of your living room or your office. That's a real problem," he said. "You can't kill somebody's child while sitting at your office desk, but if you're distracted and driving 50 miles per hour you can."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

CELL PHONE DRIVERS IN THE NEWS

On Feb. 7, WCAX-TV News reported on the story of a Rutland, Vt., man who will spend 30 days in jail for hitting a pedestrian while reaching for his cell phone. Police say Robert Hardina, 68, was trying to pick up his phone when his car veered off Route 103 in Mount Holly, Vt. He struck 34-year-old Daniel Day Gray, of East Wallingford, Vt. Mr. Gray suffered severe, permanent head injuries.

STUDIES ON CELL PHONE DRIVERS

The University of Utah published a study in the April 2006 issue of Human Factors that concluded that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model. Motorists on hands-free devices braked 18 percent slower and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked.

Motorists who use cell phones while driving are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves, according to a study of Australian drivers conducted by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2005. The study found that injury crash risk didn't vary with type of phone, i.e. hand-held or hands-free.

Comments (35) Add comment
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Ralph_Wiggum
0
Points
Ralph_Wiggum 02/18/08 - 01:04 am
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Texting and driving, just

Texting and driving, just dont mix. If ya got a bluetooth its not as bad, but there needs to be a law prohibiting this. Start giving out tickets.

Augusta resident
1368
Points
Augusta resident 02/18/08 - 01:25 am
0
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Erin Meeker. It doesn't take

Erin Meeker. It doesn't take 5 minutes to adjust a radio, do you also look at your brake pedal when you stop?

Ralph_Wiggum
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Ralph_Wiggum 02/18/08 - 01:45 am
0
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:) ha!

:) ha!

joesimpson
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joesimpson 02/18/08 - 05:47 am
0
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Well if they make it illegal

Well if they make it illegal I hope all those RCSO are going to write themselves tickets cause I rarely see one without a cell phone to his ear.

pantherluvcik
628
Points
pantherluvcik 02/18/08 - 06:43 am
0
0
Those who can't walk and chew

Those who can't walk and chew gum shouldn't try driving while talking on the phone. I must admit i'm guilty of texting and talking while driving. I use a bluetooth and only text at the stop light. I have never had an accident or near accident while use my phone in either capacity.

jayse30
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jayse30 02/18/08 - 07:04 am
0
0
Only hands free phones are

Only hands free phones are allowed in some major cities with substantial fines if someone is caught talking on a regular handset. I see an additional source of income for the county! Using a bluetooth headset is no more distracting than talking to someone in the car imo.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
11099
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ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 02/18/08 - 07:05 am
0
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That's what the guy said that

That's what the guy said that ran me off the road while texting.

dworth1
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dworth1 02/18/08 - 07:39 am
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i hope the people that are

i hope the people that are complaining about cell phones don't own one.

Boston93
117
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Boston93 02/18/08 - 07:50 am
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All states need to read the

All states need to read the new laws created in California about cell phones in vehicles. Other states need to follow some of their good guidelines.

Boston93
117
Points
Boston93 02/18/08 - 07:51 am
0
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All states need to read the

All states need to read the new laws created in California about cell phones in vehicles. Other states need to follow some of their good guidelines.

mawtnez
0
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mawtnez 02/18/08 - 08:07 am
0
0
Just what do all these people

Just what do all these people have to talk about that they can't wait 15 minutes (until they get home). Sheesh!

nightcop
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nightcop 02/18/08 - 08:20 am
0
0
it's wayyy too easy to get a

it's wayyy too easy to get a drivers license in this country to begin with. morons behind the wheel can't handle driving by itself. put a cell phone, 20oz drink, and radio within their reach and they become brain dead. tack on some rain and they are as dangerous as any drunk driver. usually worse!

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
11099
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 02/18/08 - 08:44 am
0
0
nightcop you forgot eating a

nightcop you forgot eating a sackful of Krystals and putting on makeup.

Daddyrabbit
0
Points
Daddyrabbit 02/18/08 - 09:28 am
0
0
As of July 1st 2007 it IS

As of July 1st 2007 it IS illegal to talk on a cell phone in GA while driving. It's just not enforced. Sometimes because the cop is too busy talking on his to notice someone else. But, I guess they're trained cellphone talkers so it's not unsafe for them.

workingmom
0
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workingmom 02/18/08 - 09:35 am
0
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Could car manufacturers make

Could car manufacturers make it impossible to get a signal inside the car unless it is hands free? Just a brainstorming idea here.

heres14u
1
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heres14u 02/18/08 - 09:54 am
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0
None of us will think that

None of us will think that they should make it a law to not talk/ text on your cell phones while driving until one is personally affected by it. Consider this: If you lost a loved one because they were hit by a distracted driver using a cell phone, then you'd be the first one in line to sign the bill to make it a law. It's only natural.

rufus
2
Points
rufus 02/18/08 - 10:49 am
0
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If you can't drive and talk

If you can't drive and talk on the phone please don't drive at all. You have bigger problems.

BarstoolDreamer
19
Points
BarstoolDreamer 02/18/08 - 10:54 am
0
0
If you lost a loved one

If you lost a loved one because a driver was daydreaming, should they outlaw daydreaming too......

jack
10
Points
jack 02/18/08 - 11:47 am
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Joesimpson, those deputies on

Joesimpson, those deputies on their cell phones are conducting police business. he often avoid giving out info on their radios becasue the bad guys monitor those frequencies. Normal drivers don't need to be on those cells. No weapon more dangerous than a woman driving an SUV with a cell phone stuck in her ear.

jack
10
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jack 02/18/08 - 11:54 am
0
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Night cop, you are dead on

Night cop, you are dead on with that comment. I say make drivers attend and graduate from a certified driver training course before issuing a license. High Schools need to offer this training. Most large cities schools have this training. Europe, especially Germany, have this as law and stiff fines for violators. Same for safety inspections. In Germany, they strictly check your car/safety equipment and if you fail, you get it fixed or no tag. Time to outlaw taling on a hand held cell in all the states.

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 02/18/08 - 12:01 pm
0
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i don't know what was

i don't know what was impairing the driver of the Hummerh yesterday on Bobby Jones in the vicinity of the intersection with Wrightsboro Road, because I couldn't see up that high from my car, but the driver was weaving all over the road. I tapped my horn to get his attention back on the road when he nearly sideswiped two more cars after he passed me. People that talk on the phone while driving DO NOT REALIZE the mistakes they are making. They are distracted drivers. Distractions while driving lead to accidents. If you don't realize driving and talking at the same time is a problem, maybe you shouldn't be driving at all. You have bigger problems.

Bryt
0
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Bryt 02/18/08 - 01:57 pm
0
0
Yes, the cell phone is a

Yes, the cell phone is a distraction, but there are other problems. Having to keep your kids, especially small babies, in the back seat requires you to turn around backwards when they are screaming to see what's wrong. Changing CD's or songs on your iPod. Putting on makeup. Spilling food in your lap (especially tomatoes...). All things need to be considered before we make cell phones evil. A bad driver is a bad driver, period.

angel_of_death
0
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angel_of_death 02/18/08 - 02:26 pm
0
0
I never really understood the

I never really understood the importance or practicality of text-messaging. It seems to be a communications devolution; similar to a telegraph. Why can't these impetuous teens use phones for what they are intended for: to call people. (This a rhetorical question. I do not intend on responding to any replies I receive about this matter.)

workingmom
0
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workingmom 02/18/08 - 02:34 pm
0
0
I have to admit that I do use

I have to admit that I do use my cell phone while driving sometimes. I also agree that there should be strict laws prohibiting it for safety reasons. I always got by just fine before I had a cell phone in my car so it shouldn't be that hard to discontinue using it! I would just have to learn to pull over if it was an emergency or something that couldn't wait.

bsbr032581
0
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bsbr032581 02/18/08 - 02:47 pm
0
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If there is going to be a law

If there is going to be a law for talking on a cell phone then they need to pass laws regarding senior citizens driving as well. Although, the few seniors that do know how to drive will think that the law is unfair, just as those who can drive and talk at the same time.

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 02/18/08 - 03:16 pm
0
0
There are some distractions

There are some distractions that are unavoidable, like screaming babies. You pull off the road at a safe place and attend to the situation. Talking on the cell phone while driving or text-messaging is a choice. Don't do it. it may save your life or someone else's. Now if it's an emergency situation, by all means do what you have to do.

better govt
0
Points
better govt 02/18/08 - 05:06 pm
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0
If there is a law for talking

If there is a law for talking ont he phone and seniors then there needs to be one for EATING and SMOKING! Personally I can do all these things and drive safely...I can also chew gum and walk at the same time as well! Maybe these people complaining just cannot handle driving in this BIG city and need to get a grip. Just because they can't handle it does not mean I can't.

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 02/18/08 - 06:47 pm
0
0
For years we have all used

For years we have all used the home phone while sitting and gazing into space. Now, combine talking on a cell phone with driving a vehicle and you have potentially deadly combo. I say "Hang up and drive"! And how in the world can you "text" and drive? It's like having a typewriter on your steering wheel! And how about the teenagers who are practically lying down while driving!

joesimpson
0
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joesimpson 02/18/08 - 08:51 pm
0
0
come on Jack u mean every cop

come on Jack u mean every cop I see on a cell phone driving down the road is conducting county business. I ain't buying it. Besides they can pull over and talk just like other people do. They are not above the laws. Just like the cop cars that have the tint so dark u can't possibly see safely while driving at night. Yet I would get a ticket if mine was only slightly dark. Use that argument on someone else it ain't working here.

TriDelta
0
Points
TriDelta 02/18/08 - 10:35 pm
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Chill folks !!! Humans are

Chill folks !!! Humans are adaptable. Back in the late 60's, dogooders wanted to ban car radios because it posed a safety issue: they were distracting to the driver. There have been additional contraptions introduced since then which make driving a pleasant experience. If everybody wants a sensible law passed, I suggest the following. During the actual driver's license test, takers should be tested for coordination and focus while driving, listening to iPod, talking on the phone, changing CDs/stations, etc. Only then can we get a sense of assurance that the newly minted drivers indeed can operate a vehicle in the 21st century. Nanas and Papaws pose a clear and present danger to other motorists. They need to be tested bi-annually. Cell phones are here to stay. GPS systems are more distracting. Also, please note, the left lane on 520 is for fast-moving traffic. Please change lanes safely and allow traffic behind to get on with their business.

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