Recent citations issued by local law enforcement agencies, as well as the Vermont State Police, would suggest that drivers around Vermont are ignoring the law that states they should not be operating a vehicle and texting or using a phone.
In fact, some recent accidents have been blamed on distraction because of texting and driving.
You don’t need to take law enforcement’s word for it. The next time you are out and about, just pay attention to the number of individuals in traffic who are glancing down at their phones or not using a Bluetooth device to have a conversation. In a matter of minutes, the number of distracted drivers will be impressed upon you.
According to the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, it takes two seconds to go from texting to crashing.
All drivers are prohibited from texting while operating a moving motor vehicle on a highway.
Only drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from other use of portable electronic devices.
By definition, texting is “reading or manually composing or sending of electronic communications. Electronic communications include text messages, instant messages, or emails using a portable or electronic device.” In most cases, that is a phone, but could also be a laptop computer. (GPS or navigational systems are permitted.)
The numbers illustrating the dangers of cellphone use while driving are downright startling.
In fact, according to AAA, at any given time throughout the day, approximately 660,000 drivers are attempting to use their phones while behind the wheel of an automobile.
Smartphones have made it easy for us to stay connected at all times. But that can pose serious safety risks if someone decides to check text messages, emails, phone calls, or any other mobile applications while driving.
Consider the following data from the National Safety Council:
— Cellphone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
— Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.
— One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
— Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
— Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. Traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to travel the length of a football field.
— Texting while driving causes a 400% increase in time spent with eyes off the road.
Of all cellphone-related tasks, texting is by far the most dangerous activity.
— 94% of drivers support a ban on texting while driving.
— 74% of drivers support a ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving.
And while adults are breaking the law, young people are far worse.
According to a AAA poll, 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway.
— 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cellphones.
— Teen drivers are four times more likely than adults to get into car crashes or near-crashes when talking or texting on a cellphone.
— A teen driver with only one additional passenger doubles the risk of getting into a fatal car accident. With two or more passengers, they are five times as likely.
The NSC reported in 2017 that parents with young children were 13% more likely to be distracted while driving than adults with no small children. In 2017, 3,166 people were killed by distracted driving; in 2017, there were 34,247 distracted driving accidents; and 15,341 drivers aged 15 to 29 were involved in fatal crashes due to distraction or cellphone use.
Here in Vermont, the most recent youth behavior survey suggested some improvement. Among those who drove a car or other vehicle during the last 30 days, one-third reported texting or emailing at least once. By 12th grade, 50% of students who drove reported texting or emailing. The good news is that texting while driving significantly decreased between 2013 and 2015.
Statewide, law enforcement issues hundreds of citations a year for driving and texting. The fines range from $100 to $250, but can result in the loss of up to five points (and for younger drivers could lead to a license recall for up to 30 days).
Our devices have become an extension of us. But the data show that the danger is all around us still. Changes in behavior take a long time. We need to be more vigilant about sticking to the law. Vermont roads can be challenging enough. Let’s not be pushing our luck.