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Carolina Traffic Safety: Bad Drivers Don’t Need Cell Phones

Some drivers are unsafe on the road even without the distraction of using a cellphone.

Science Magazine reports that drivers who routinely use a cell phone behind the wheel may be no safer when someone takes the phone away, according to a new study published in Accident Analysis & Prevention.

Our Asheville injury attorneys know about the risks of distracted driving of course — motorists are as much as 23 times more likely to be involved in a serious or fatal accident while text messaging. But what has puzzled researchers is why accident rates have decreased throughout the economic downturn, despite the exploding popularity of the smartphone. And why states like North Carolina, which has a distracted driving law on the books, are not seeing an appreciable difference in auto accident rates compared to states like South Carolina, which remains among the few states in the nation to have no law against driving distracted.The Governors Highway Safety Association reports it’s illegal for young drivers to use a cell phone and for all drivers to text message in North Carolina. Meanwhile, South Carolina and Florida are two of the last states in the nation with no law at all. Yet some stats show North Carolina accidents are increasing at a faster rate. Overall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 1,319 motorists were killed in North Carolina traffic accidents in 2010, compared to the 810 motorists who died in South Carolina.

What this latest study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology essentially found will be of little surprise to veteran personal injury and wrongful death attorneys: Drivers who text or use cell phones behind the wheel were also more likely to engage in other dangerous driving behaviors, including speeding, changing lanes frequently and without signaling, and abruptly or excessively applying the gas or brake.

The American Automobile Association said those findings agree with many of the findings in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index. That report typically finds many drivers are aware of critical safety risks — including speeding, drunk driving and distracted driving — despite the fact that they admit to committing many of the violations about which they are concerned.

“It’s clear that cell phones… impair the ability to manage the demands of driving,” said Bryan Reimer, an MIT engineer and one of the study’s leaders. “(But) the fundamental problem may be the behavior of the individuals willing to pick up the technology.”

Researchers split 108 drivers into two groups — those who reported regular cell phone use while driving and those who reported rarely using a phone behind the wheel — and sent them on a 40-minute commute up I-93 north of Boston. The drivers were also questioned about their history of traffic infractions as well as how they felt about speeding, passing other cars, disobeying traffic control devices or breaking other rules of the road.

The takeaway here is that safe driving is about more than just putting the phone down. While we frequently stress the need to avoid electronic distraction behind the wheel, that’s just a start when it comes to being a better driver.

If you or a loved one is involved in an accident, contact Grimes Teich Anderson LLP. Call 1.800.533.6845. No Attorney Fees Until You’ve Been Paid.

Additional Resources:
North Carolina Traffic Safety: From Drugs to Cell Phones, Motorists Influence Risks, Grimes, Teich Anderson, LLP, Aug. 21, 2012.

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