When you set out for a ride every day, do you wonder whether you’ll make it home in one piece?
If you do, there is good reason because American drivers are using more devices and are more distracted than other
drivers worldwide, says a new report.
Almost 70 percent of Americans ages 18 to 64 said they had spoken on the phone while driving in the past 30 days, and 30 percent sent text messages, as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, weekly morbidity and mortality study.
Road traffic crashes are a global public health problem, contributing to an estimated 1.3 million deaths annually. “Known risk factors for road traffic crashes and related injuries and deaths include speed, alcohol, nonuse of restraints, and nonuse of helmets. More recently, driver distraction has become an emerging concern,” said the report.
European countries have laws against cellphone use, but in the United States it varies by state. Texting while driving is illegal in New York and New Jersey, but legal in South Carolina where cyclist William Carlos Dominguez was struck and killed while riding cross country.
In that crash, the 16-year-old driver had barely gotten his license, and the investigation continues into whether he was either on the phone or texting.
Texting may have also played a role in the death of Janet Martinez last summer near Nyack, NY on Route 9W when she was struck and killed by the then 25-year-old Denise Patarawan,
In both cases inexperienced drivers with valid licenses struck and killed with such force that the victims were dead on arrival at their respective hospitals.
Neither person has been tried or convicted of a crime so far.
Compared to other countries, the United States is behind in creating safe roads for cyclists and pedestrians. In Britain only 21 percent of drivers admitted to having spoken on the telephone while driving, and for Europe overall the percent is under 50 with the exception of Portugal where it hovers around 60 percent.
But in the case of Janet Martinez, even if it is found that the driver was on the phone, police often face enormous hurdles in evaluating phone data. The driver, Patarawan, gave up her phone, but requesting phone records is often left to the lawyers who take up a civil law suit rather than the crash investigators who have to deal with significant privacy laws when ordering copies of phone records.
The study goes on to explain that texting and talking on the phone while driving is worse among young people who also have less driver experience.
Doug Daniele, a popular cyclist in the New York and New Jersey region was killed in 2011 when a 17-year-old girl who had barely started driving completed a U-turn in front of him while he was riding his motorcycle. The driver was said to be holding a cell phone immediately after the crash, and had indicated that she was on the phone with her mother, the latter who had told her to turn from across the street.
In all three cases, all of the drivers were under the age of 30 and all of those struck and killed were over the age of 40.
“Several studies support the finding that a greater proportion of younger drivers talk and text while driving compared with older drivers. Strategies have been aimed specifically at teens and new drivers to try to reduce mobile device use while driving. As of February 2013, a total of 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia had laws restricting at least some teens or new drivers from using electronic devices while driving. However, these laws alone have not yet proven effective at decreasing these behaviors among young drivers.