Texting while driving accidents are occurring more than ever before in the state and local officials encourage those on the road to put their cellphones away when behind the wheel.
Distracted driving is caused by any activity to divert a person's attention away from the primary task -- driving -- and could endanger any nearby person on the road.
Talking to passengers such as a family or friends, eating, drinking, reading, even grooming are all common distractions, and most recently, the use of a cellphone or texting while driving has become a concern to many law enforcement and residents.
"We get the reports often of a drunk driver, but it's a driver on their phone. They are traveling slower or weaving back and forth across the center line,"
Although any use of a cellphone while driving can cause distraction, texting is even more dangerous because it requires more concentrated thinking and taking a hand off the wheel. It requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver.
Texting while driving is by far the most alarming distraction, according to the
"When it comes to cellphones and technology, it's really becoming a major issue because everyone has them," Cutts said.
From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of reported drivers owning a smartphone increased from 52 percent of drivers to 80 percent, according to
Research shows distracted driving accidents are most common in drivers 29 years old and younger.
Forty-nine percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes, on their cellphone at the time of the accident, are between the ages of 15-29. The 15 to 19 year olds make up 11 percent of those drivers; the 20 to 29 year olds make up 38 percent, NHTSA reported.
"I've done it, but I don't agree with it or do it all the time. I try not to do it because it's hard to keep focused on the road," Hicks said.
Not only have mobile devices changed the way we communicate as a society but also have changed the way cars are manufactured, accommodating hands-free cellphone use while at the same time encouraging drivers to stay connected via touch screens.
"The car (company) is making it so easy to use the technology too, with the ability to sync the phone with the car and not watching the road," Cutts said.
Statewide and nationally, the number of accidents, injuries and fatalities caused by mobile device use distracted driving has drastically increased in the past 10 years.
However, the number of car accidents in
"Over a three year period, we're looking at about an 11 percent reduction in
Most the accidents in city limits are minor accidents, such as a rear end accident, with minor injuries at minor speeds. In towns with slower moving traffic, such as
Cutts and Burdess say all texting and driving statistics are anecdotal -- the numbers are likely to be too low and inaccurate.
"It's very difficult to prove that somebody was texting and driving at the time of the accident," Burdess said. "Unless we have a witness or the ability to get a search warrant -- and if the driver doesn't admit to texting and driving, which a majority of the time they are likely not to -- then you chalk it up to another offense such as careless driving, failure to maintain control, maybe following too close."
The texting while driving laws in
Texting while driving is a primary offense for teenagers. A primary offense means an officer may cite a driver if they are seen on their phone while driving without any other traffic offense taking place. This would result in a ticket and the loss of their license.
Texting while driving is a secondary offense for adults, which means drivers can not be pulled over for texting and driving and must be pulled over for another offense, such as swerving, a seat belt violations or speeding.
"Enforcement is almost impossible. We can have somebody sitting right beside us in a car, texting, and there's nothing we can do about it unless they are committing some other sort of traffic violation, so that's pretty frustrating," Burdess said.
However, an adult can be charged with distracted driving if another crime is caused.
This summer, a 20-year-old
"In states that have made it a primary offense for adults, and go hands-free, it hasn't solved all the problems," Burdess said. "Accidents still occur, and actually in some of the cases they may increase because people are being more covert about using their phones."
In 2015, the
Cutts said many teenagers think they can multi-task while behind the wheel, but he and his colleagues are determined to educate them otherwise.
There are 13 state patrol public resources officers in central
"They are discovering they can't do what they thought they could do. They quickly learn all the dangers," Cutts said.
Since a teenager can use their cellphones once they become an adult, it makes it challenging to teach youth how to drive.
"I hear a lot in the classroom 'my mom or my dad uses their cellphone in the car,' but I tell them 'you need to not follow what mom and dad do,'" Cutts said.
Not all teens get to hear about safe driving at home and a school district can invite the state patrol into the school if they want to provide additional public safety education.
The patrol tells teens if they must make a phone call then they must pull over.
"Get off the road, park, make a call and safely merge get back on the road. Concentrate on the road 100 percent of the time," Cutts said.
Parents can advise and encourage their teen too. They can discuss what it means to be a safe driver, set ground rules for when they're behind the wheel and make a family pledge to not text and drive.
The best thing a parent can do is lead by example, putting cellphones in the glove compartment when driving.
"People hear about accidents but if it doesn't directly affect them or hasn't personally affected them then they're less likely to take it seriously," Burdess said. "We are looking at different ways to educate and promote driving safer, partnering with schools, insurance companies or the city in the next year to be proactive."
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