Distracted Driving kills thousands annually, carries fine in state and on base

  • Published
  • By Regina Coffey
  • Air Force Flight Test Center Safety Office
Cell phone use while driving is common but dangerous and against the law!

On July 1, 2008, California made it illegal for people 18 and over to drive while talking on a cell phone unless the phone is equipped with a hands-free device. For those under 18, no cell phone use is allowed while driving, even if using a hands-free device.

Drivers at Edwards must adhere to the California law and Air Force Flight Test Center Instruction 90-13. In California, the minimum fine for a first-time distracted-driving offense is $159.

Increased Risk

In September 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report on distracted driving fatalities for 2009. The NHTSA considers distracted driving to include some of the following: other occupants in the car, eating, drinking, smoking, adjusting the radio, adjusting environmental controls, reaching for objects in the car, and cell phone use. In 2009 there were a reported 5,474 people killed by distracted drivers. Of those, 995 were considered to be killed by drivers distracted by cell phones.

Texting While Driving

Effective Jan. 1, 2009, California expanded the prohibition of using a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle to include writing, sending, or reading text-based communications such as text-messaging, instant messaging, and email. Negative effects were seen (while sending text messages) in detecting and responding correctly to road signs, detecting hazards and time spent with eyes off the road.

Texting while driving received greater attention in the late 2000s, corresponding to a rise in the number of text messages being sent. During a year, approximately 2,000 teens die from texting while driving. The 2008 Will Smith movie Seven Pounds deals with Smith's character committing suicide in order to donate his organs to help save the lives of seven people to make up for the seven people he killed in a car accident because he was receiving a text message while he was driving.

Texting while driving attracted interest in the media after several highly publicized car crashes were caused by texting drivers, including a May 2009 incident involving a Boston trolley car driver who crashed while texting his girlfriend. Texting was also blamed in the 2008 Chatsworth train collision that killed 25 passengers. Investigations revealed that the engineer of that train had sent 45 text messages while driving the train.

Text messaging has the greatest relative risk among the types of distracted driving, with drivers being 23 times more likely to experience a safety-critical event when texting. The study found that drivers typically take their eyes off the forward roadway for an average of four out of six seconds when texting and an average of 4.6 out of the six seconds surrounding safety-critical events.

April is National Distracted Drivers Awareness Month. Please ensure your family members and friends are aware that driving is the most dangerous thing people do every day. Being distracted is one thing we can stop and prevent. In the words Smokey Bear might be thinking if he could drive: "Only you can prevent driving distractions!"

Texting + Driving = Think you're smart, well you aren't!

Can you hear me now?