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TMCNet:  More Drivers Accessing Internet

[December 31, 2012]

More Drivers Accessing Internet

Dec 31, 2012 (Times Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The number of people with smartphones has increased during the last few years, and the number of people who access the Internet on those phones while driving has also increased.


In a fourth annual national survey conducted by State Farm in July, 48 percent of nearly 1,000 drivers ages 18-29 admitted to accessing the Internet on his or her cellphone while driving. Those surveyed had a valid driver's license, owned a cellphone and reported driving between one and 80 hours per week, State Farm media contact Gary Stephenson said.

"What's shocking about it to me is just that approximately half of young adults say that they surf the web while driving," Stephenson said. "There's obviously a lot of work to do yet on the education there." People who browse the Internet on cellphones typically read and update social media networks, along with checking email, according to a State Farm news release. As webbing while driving has increased among young adults from 29 percent in 2009, the rate among drivers of all ages has also increased from 13 percent in 2009 to 21 percent in the latest survey.

The number of people who report webbing while driving decreases with age, the news release states.

"One question that comes to mind is, 'Well, why ' And no one knows the exact answer to that," Stephenson said. "My thought is the younger generation has grown up with cellphones, and they don't look dangerous because they use them all the time, like a companion." Stephenson surmised the younger generation has failed to make a connection with the dangers of using a cellphone while driving because there are no strong advertising or marketing campaigns in place to dissuade drivers, compared to the campaigns associated with the dangers of drunken driving.

"People don't realize that at 65 mph, more or less, the car is traveling at 95 feet per second," Stephenson said. "If you're looking down off the road for three to four seconds, you've gone over a football field's length." In 2009, the Arkansas state legislature enacted House Bill 1013, also known as Paul's Law, which prohibited use of a cellphone for all drivers ages 18 to 20 and banned wireless interactive communication on a cellphone for drivers of all ages. Under the statute, wireless interactive communication includes texting, emailing and accessing information on the Internet while driving, according to the law.

Since 2010, Fort Smith police have issued seven text-messaging while driving citations, a violation that carries a $215 fine, according to a Sebastian County District Court deputy clerk. For drivers age 18 to 20, using a cellphone at all while driving is a violation that carries a $165 fine.

It can be difficult for patrol officers to determine if a distracted driver caused an accident by using a cellphone while driving, Cpl. Patty Sullivan of the Fort Smith Police Department said.

"When we show up on a wreck, the wreck's already happened, and nine times out of 10, they're not going to tell us, 'Yeah I was playing on my phone,'" Sullivan said. "They may tell us, 'I looked down,' or something, and we'll cite them for careless (driving). I just can't see that many going, 'Yes, I was texting on my phone.'" In Oklahoma, cellphone use is banned for drivers with a learner's permit or intermediate license and for bus drivers, but there is no law set in place for all drivers, according to distraction.gov, the official government website for distracted driving.

Alice Collinsworth, communication manager at the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, agreed that determining the cause of an accident to be a distracted driver on a cellphone can be difficult, often because authorities rely on the driver who caused the accident to self-report.

Whether a driver was on a cellphone is difficult to determine, but Collinsworth said any form of distraction while driving is dangerous.

"Anything that takes your attention away from driving is dangerous, period," Collinsworth said. "Whether it's inside the car, outside the car, social media, maps, food, whatever. It's a task that requires 100 percent of your attention, and you need to keep your eyes and your mind on the road." Collinsworth agreed that a concentrated campaign to dissuade drivers from using cellphones while driving could improve road safety.

"We hear all kinds of different groups that are trying to get something going, but it's a really scattered message right now," Collinsworth said.

___ (c)2012 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) Visit Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) at www.swtimes.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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