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Distracted Drivers & Accidents

According to the Illinois State Police, distracted drivers and inattention are factors in more than 1 million car crashes in North America annually. Many of these wrecks result in serious injuries and sometimes even death. The annual economic impact of such crashes also hovers around 40 billion dollars per year. Currently, distracted drivers are at an all-time high, which most believe is due to cellphone usage. Consequently, lawmakers have put forth legislation that prohibits the use of handheld cellphones and sending or reading text messages while operating a motor vehicle. But, some experts question how much such laws reduce the distraction of phone use by drivers.

The general consensus is in, cell-phone usage while distracted drivers creates problems and according to the National Safety Institute, about 23 percent of crashes each year involve cellphone usage. Talking on a cellphone while driving makes you 4 times more likely to crash and texting while driving can increase your chances of a crash up to 23 times. Pursuant to these startling statistics and new Illinois laws, drivers are converting to hands-free devices. According to the National Safety Institute, however, studies show that these hands-free devices provide no safety benefit.

These new Illinois bans on cellphone usage while distracted driving would lead you to believe that it is the visual and manual distraction cellphones create that leads to crashes. However, studies show that it is the overall cognitive distraction of holding a conversation with another that is the foremost basis for crashes. Distracted drivers experience what researchers call inattention blindness, kind of like tunnel vision. Distracted drivers are looking ahead, but they do not process everything in their environment that they must know to effectively monitor their surroundings, seek and identify potential hazards, and respond quickly to unexpected situations. Most people can recognize when they are visually or mechanically distracted and seek to end these activities as soon as possible. However, people typically do not realize when they are cognitively distracted, such as taking part in a phone conversation; therefore, the risk can greater and longer lasting.

Essentially, these Illinois laws give off the impression that talking on hands-free devices while driving is safe, and that is simply not true. The National Safety Council has gathered more than 30 research studies from scientists around the world who have used a variety of research methods, to compare driver performance with handheld and hands-free phones. All of these studies show hands- free phones offer no safety benefit when driving. The Illinois State Legislature is trying to convince us that these new bans will make the roads safer, but these studies speak for themselves. Distracted drivers can be distracted in many ways.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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