How Electronic Devices Impact Illinois Roadway Safety

Electronic-devices-and road-safetyIllinois motorists receive constant reminders through public service announcements and safety campaigns that educate them about avoiding the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while operating their vehicle. This is because distracted driving continues to be a leading cause of fatal car accidents statewide involving writing, sending, and reading messages using an electronic device or speaking on a smartphone. The devices known to put drivers and passengers at great risk when causing a distraction include:

  • Smartphones
  • Cell phones
  • Tablets
  • GPS navigational systems
  • Radio and sound systems
  • Devices requiring input including electronic reading devices

The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that approximately one out of every four motor vehicle accidents occurring the nation’s roadways are caused by motorists who are either texting or talking on their phone. In 2015, these types of accidents involved both hands-on and hands-free devices that claimed the lives of nearly 3500 people and injured another 400,000 individuals in the U.S. that year. Driving distracted is a dangerous behavior that risks the health and well-being of the motorist, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians and other vehicles that share the road.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving refers to “any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or the navigation system.” The distraction can divert your attention from operating your vehicle safely and responsibly while increasing the potential chance of causing a serious or lethal crash.

A report published by the Governors Highly Safety Association revealed that as many as one out of every four vehicle accidents in the United States every year involves a distraction caused by an electronic device including cell phones. The report also states that “despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot we do not know. Much of the research is incomplete or contradictory. Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it.”

When the Driver Switches Their Attention

It just takes a second or two to send or read a text message. However, that the same amount of time it takes to cause an accident. Many individuals develop a false perception that taking their eyes off the roadway long enough to perform a simple task of making a phone call or sending a text message will not endanger their lives, their passengers’ lives or the lives of others sharing the road. Sadly, any time the driver takes their hands off the steering wheel to do anything else they switch their attention and focus away from safely operating the vehicle.

Performing an alternative activity when the car is moving involves fully compromising the driver’s eyes, hands, and brain. The cycling back and forth between activities will easily make the motorist defenseless against any unpredictable incident that lies ahead. This could include children playing in the street, a car in front coming to a sudden stop, or the changing colors of a stoplight that quickly changed the direction of traffic moving through the intersection.

Overloading Cognitive Abilities

Maintaining focus by preventing distraction when operating a vehicle remains the cornerstone of safety on the nation’s roadways. A 2009 study published by the Stanford News revealed that multitasking has the potential of impairing the driver’s cognitive control. The study concluded that individuals who are “readily bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay close attention, control or memory, or switch from one task to the other as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”

Allowing thoughts to jump from writing a text message back to refocusing on the roadway might feel like a normal process to individuals who constantly flip between screens at home. However, that sense of normalcy can be life-threatening to the driver or others around them if at the moment they are unable to instantly refocus ahead while the vehicle is moving at any speed.

Research shows that there are certain areas of the brain that are measured bad low levels of activity when an individual is multitasking. These reduced activity areas include those performing spatial attention and spatial processing. This means that the part of the brain required to drive safely becomes a secondary cognitive function during a distracting activity like texting or talking on the phone, which instantly became the primary cognitive function.

Which Drivers Are Texting?

The NHTSA estimates that nearly 660,000 drivers use their smartphones and electronic devices every day while their vehicle is moving. This reckless behavior produces an enormous risk of injury or death for those using the roadways. Out of all the major demographic age groups, teenage drivers are found to be the most distracted group involved in all fatal vehicle crashes.

The NSC estimates that overall, the number of motorists who text while driving is approximately 50 percent. This includes teenage motorists who have been raised in a culture filled with communication devices including a smartphone. This group expects to send a text message and receive an answer in less than five minutes. National surveys show that though 97 percent of all driving teenagers agree that using hand-held devices while operating a motor vehicle is dangerous, nearly 45 percent admit to doing it.

Age

However, young drivers are not the only demographic group to participate in distracted driving. Studies show that nearly 33 percent of older motorists between 18 and 64 years of age admit that they have been highly active at sending and receiving text and emails while driving. These disturbing statistics show that educating the public on the dangers of using hand-held devices while operating a vehicle does little to deter drivers from doing it.

Gender

Gender seems to play a crucial role in causing automobile accidents resulting in death and injuries. Statistics show that women are more likely to grab their smartphone to text or talk while driving at a rate significantly higher than men. In fact, the female gender is more likely to participate in other activities when driving including putting on makeup, grooming, adjusting the sound system, or using a GPS or other electronic devices.

Many drivers believe they have the capacity for multitasking, where driving a vehicle while texting on a smartphone can be safely accomplished. However, statistics show that an average of ten individuals lose their lives every day on America’s roadways and nearly 1200 people suffer serious injuries daily in accidents caused by distracted driving. Had the distracted motorists realized that they are limited in their capability of operating their vehicle responsibly while being distracted, all these distracted-related accidents with injuries and death could have been avoided.

Where Texting While Driving Occurs

Driving was once considered a leisurely activity that provided quiet time to listen to the radio on short journeys to the store or long distances out on the open road. However, the urge to communicate by texting and talking has intensified in recent years, especially since the development of smartphone technology and other electronic devices. For many men and women, sitting in the driver’s seat provides a place to get caught up on work using a phone or communicating with friends at a distant location.

Others use their smart phone technology while driving to search for a gas station, restaurant, or other data that the motorist is interested in retrieving on the Internet. While these applications might serve as a modern convenience by providing valuable information, using the device while the vehicle is in motion diverts the driver’s attention away from their responsibilities of focusing on the roadway.

Newly Enacted Illinois Law

State legislatures across America have understood that the only way to really stop crashes caused by distracted driving is to do away with the distraction. While it seems impossible to legislate the elimination of certain risk factors involved in distracted driving like eating, drinking beverages or talking to others in the car while operating a moving vehicle, it is possible to control texting and talking when motorists are behind the wheel.

In recent years, the state of Illinois enacted distracted driving laws that restrict the motorist from using their cell phone to talk or text while operating their vehicle. Illinois is one of sixteen states that along with the District of Columbia specifically forbids drivers of every age from talking on hand-held devices while driving. Every state in America except for Arizona and Montana has a total or partial ban on texting while driving.

A bill recently signed into Illinois law in August 2013 bans motorists from using hand-held devices at any time they are operating a vehicle. However, the motorist still has the legal right to talk on an electronic device while driving if they use a hands-free device. If that is not possible, the driver is required to get off the roadway and stop the vehicle when calling or receiving any type of electronic communication or they can face serious financial fines.

Mounting Your Device

Each state has unique laws on where a phone or electronic device can be mounted inside the vehicle. In Illinois, it is legal to mount the device on the dashboard or windshield, but it must be mounted in a location that provides an unobstructed view of the roadway in a location that will not distract the driver. Possible locations include using an air vent mount, friction mount, or adhesive disc that is attached the dashboard or windshield.

However, following the law by mounting the electronic device on the windshield or dashboard in an unobstructed area does not mean the driver can enter information or answer a phone call by touching the device when the vehicle is moving.

How to Properly Use a GPS Device

Many motorists believe that state law prohibits using only hand-held devices texting or phone conversations. However, holding a smartphone or device and using it as a GPS navigation tool while driving is not only illegal but very risky because it can increase the potential chance of being involved in a serious accident.

It is undeniable that GPS navigational systems provide valuable information to ensure the driver reaches their destination safely. However, this assumes the driver is using the device safely and as designed. That requires that the driver take certain safety precautions including avoiding any type of distraction when inputting information into the GPS device, adjusting the device in its mount or placing it in an area on the windshield or dashboard that obstructs their view.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that every motorist pull off the road to operate a Global Positioning System (GPS) device whether it is a dashboard/windshield mounted unit or smartphone. The driver should never hold the GPS device when the vehicle is moving. In fact, if the cell phone is used as a GPS device, it should be mounted to the car and positioned in a location that will not distract the driver’s view of the road to allow for safe motoring.

Inputting data into the GPS device is necessary to locate the destination so it can develop a route based on time, weather, traffic, distance and/or the avoidance/inclusion of toll roads. However, using the GPS navigational system safely requires inputting this information before heading out on the open road. Setting the start and end points to the destination or making any adjustment to the settings should either be done by passengers in the vehicle or after the car and truck is off the road and stopped in an area that is safely away from moving traffic.

A False Sense of Security

In 2013, the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety released reports indicating the effects on drivers who multitask when operating a vehicle. These studies concluded that there is not a safe way to multitask by doing any other activity when driving. The report stated that operating a moving vehicle safely and responsibly requires more than just using hands and eyes, but requires brain activity that can easily become distracted.

Cognitive distraction, or distracting the senses and thoughts when processing knowledge and information, can easily occur especially when the driver’s attention is redirected away from the road. Neurologists understand that the human brain has finite limits in the capacity to utilize brain power when performing certain tasks. The study showed that many drivers develop a false sense of security by believing they can carry on a complex conversation using hands-free technology while responsibly keeping their attention on the road.

The study reports that nearly four out of every five accidents might be linked to cognitive distractions. Other safety issues include:

  • Hands-Free Device Is Are No Better – The NSC and the University of Utah have determined there is no substantial advantage to maintaining safety when using hands-free phones and electronic devices compared to those that must be held when used.
  • Distracted Driving Stats Worse Than Drunk Driving – Carrying on a conversation using hands-free or hands-on technology while driving is like operating a vehicle while drunk with a 0.08 percent BAC (blood alcohol content).
  • Texting is Extremely Dangerous When Driving – AAA studies indicate that writing a text message using voice-activated technology while driving causes an extreme level of cognitive distraction measured at twice the risk of making a hand-held phone call.
  • Hands-Free Devices Cause Accidents Too – The Highway Loss Data Institute released statistics that show the rate of distraction and related accidents occurring in states restricting hand-held device use while driving is equal to the rate in states that forbid hand-held devices.
  • Drivers Overestimate Their Abilities – Motorists who frequently multitask when driving incorrectly believe their abilities to operate a car or truck are better than they truly are. Studies indicate the more often than not the motorist multitasking any other activity when driving places them at greater risk than focusing all of their attention on the roadway.

There is no nationally recognized laws, guidelines or policies for dealing with cognitive distraction on the nation’s streets and roadways.

How to Stop Distracted Driving

Everyone can become involved in stopping distracted driving to ensure the health and safety of their loved ones. These efforts can save lives and prevent life-altering injuries to our children, teenagers, parents, neighbors, and others.

  • Teenagers and Children – Peer pressure, especially in our younger years can have a dramatic effect on forming good and bad behaviors. Because of that, the NHTSA encourages the young “to speak up when they see a friend driving while distracted,” or to “have their friend sign a pledge to never drive distracted.” The federal agency also encourages teenagers to use social media to share messages that remind their family members and friends “not to make a deadly choice to drive distracted.”
  • Parents – Leading by example can be a strong reminder to parents who are working hard to raise the next generation of responsible citizens. A teenager can grow up driving responsibly if they see their parent never driving distracted. Additionally, parents who discuss the benefits of avoiding distractions with their young driver can provide the guidance they need to drive sensibly. Parents can remind their children that any distracted driving violation could cost them a suspended or delayed driver’s license.
  • Employers and Educators – The workplace or schoolroom is an ideal environment to spread the news about the dangers and irresponsibility of distracted driving. Companies can develop in-house distracted driving policies and students can be encouraged to take a pledge commitment to never driving distracted.

Drivers can take proactive measures to avoid distractions when operating their motor vehicle. This will allow better focus on the roadway and safer driving. These suggestions include:

  • Turn the Phone Off – Whoever wants to speak to you through a text or conversation on your phone can wait. Instead, turn the electronic device off and make sure it is out of reach to avoid the potential of reaching for it and turning the device back on. After reaching your destination, you can turn the device back on and return the phone call or send a reply text saying you can now talk safely because you just “got off the road.”
  • Avoid Stressful Conversations – Driving safely requires your undivided attention to ensure you remain focused on the road ahead. Having a serious discussion or stressful conversation when operating a vehicle is not worth the risk of losing your life or the life of loved ones if the distraction causes you to have an accident.
  • Avoid Bluetooth and Voice Commands – While the latest advancements and technology have brought many wonderful conveniences to the world of electronic devices, some because major distractions when driving. Speaking voice commands to a phone or electronic device can diminish your cognitive attention on the roadway. Because of that, these technologies should be used sparingly or not at all.
  • Use Airplane Mode – If you are using your smartphone technology as a GPS navigational device while driving, you obviously must keep the phone turned on. However, you can make driving safer by placing the smartphone in Airplane Mode where the phone portion of the device becomes “silent” once that feature is disabled. However, it is crucial that you ensure that the smartphone is mounted securely to the dashboard or windshield and not held in your hand while traveling to your destination.
  • Ask a Passenger for Help – As the driver of the vehicle, and it is your responsibility to get you and your passengers to your destination as safely as possible. If you want to use your smartphone, send a text, adjust the music on the radio or change the destination in a GPS navigational system, asked your passenger to help. They will not only be productive but help you keep everyone safe.

Avoiding distraction caused by electronic devices while driving safely can lives. In addition, avoiding the use of the technology can help develop a quiet moment in the day to allow you to focus on the task of driving. Your decision to not use electronic technology can make it much easier to remain attentive to the road to concentrate on driving safely to your destination.

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