Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Island Voices
More than cell phones distract drivers

By Von Kenric Kaneshiro
Former Honolulu resident

It appears that driver distractions go well beyond cell phones, and distractions may hint at a deeper driver behavioral problem.

AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety funded a study performed by the North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. The study used the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crashworthiness data system, which examines about 5,000 crashes per year. Leading distractions that caused accidents were an outside person, object or event (29.4 percent); adjusting a radio or CD player (11.4 percent); talking with other occupants (10.9 percent). Other noteworthy distractions were adjusting climate controls (2.8 percent); eating and drinking (1.7 percent); cell phone use (1.5 percent), and smoking (.9 percent).

Curiously, the complete study reported that the number of accidents caused by cell phone use remained flat year to year. If cell phone use were a growing issue, then surely the number of accidents caused by cell phone use would have increased. Still, there are significantly more users of car audios than cell phones.

The bottom line is that a ban on cell phone use would be narrow-minded and premature, relative to other driver distractions. Just because we have been talking to other passengers in a car for 100 years doesn't mean it can be exempt from the bad-driver-behavior list.

There is no doubt that driver inattention is the overall issue, but that includes car stereos, people, phones, PDAs, maps, CB and police radios, and outside events. There is no doubt that certain activities are more distracting than others (i.e., 5 seconds spent opening a CD jewel case may be more distracting than talking to another passenger, or using a cell phone's voice dialing feature may be less distracting than dialing on the phone's keypad). Finally, people also vary in the level of distraction relative to other people, or relative to specific activities (we are not uniform in ability).

The solution, then, may only be found in a comprehensive crackdown on driving over a driver's career. Mandatory, stringent education on driver behavior, tiered licensing (no driving cars beyond one's capability in the first few years), and thorough road testing throughout a driver's career. The problems are behavioral, not merely incidental. Correction is needed at the attitudinal level.