They can be “fatal distractions,” but despite the increasingly well-understood risks, American motorists blithely continue to use cellphones or text while behind the wheel – far more than their counterparts in Europe.
Efforts to get drivers to put down their mobile devices and focus on the road have so far failed to yield significant results, according to a new study released by the Center for Disease Control. Other recent studies suggest that this is contributing to what the nation’s top transportation official has dubbed an “epidemic” of distracted driving.
“The cell phone can be a fatal distraction for those who use it while they drive,” warns CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “Driving and dialing or texting don’t mix. If you are driving, pull over to a safe place and stop before you use your cell phone.”
According to the new CDC study, 69% of U.S. motorists acknowledged having talked on their cellphone while driving during the previous 30-day period. By comparison, only 21% of British motorists admitted the same potentially risky behavior.
Meanwhile, 31% of the American drivers also read or sent text messages, more than double the 15% who did so in Spain.
According to the CDC, there was no significant differences between men and women, but those between 25 and 44 years of age, were more likely to talk on their cellphones, while texting was most common among those aged 18 to 34.
The CDC survey raises serious questions about the increasingly stringent regulations now in place in much of the U.S. that are intended to get drivers to put down their cellphones and stop texting.
Compounding concerns, there have been signs that a decade-long trend towards lower highway fatalities more be turning upward again, especially among young motorists. Last month, the Governors Highway Safety Association reported that deaths among 16- and 17-year-old drivers surged a combined 19% during the first half of 2012, significantly faster than for the general population of motorists.
(Death rate among young teen drivers surges sharply. Click Here for that story.)
“It’s especially risky for young, inexperienced drivers-who are already extremely vulnerable to crashes-to be distracted when they are behind the wheel. Answering a call or reading a text is never worth a loss of life,” stresses Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Automotive safety experts have become increasingly concerned about the issue of distracted driving, outgoing U.S. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood dubbing it an “epidemic,” with some studies suggesting it is responsible for as many as one in ten U.S. highway deaths – or more.
That has led to tougher rules against using handheld cellphones and texting, in general, and 33 states, along with the District of Columbia, have enacted laws specifically restricting the use of cellphones by teens and new drivers.
But CDC officials say that more research is needed to find ways to get motorists young and old to put down their phones and other electronic devices and place their hands back on the wheel.
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