Cell phones distracting, not illegal yet

Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2011

While Alaska has seen a significant drop in drunk or impaired driving offenses, there is still a large concern among law enforcement about ‘distracted’ drivers.

MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire
MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire

“Well, it is under reported, people are not necessarily going to say the reason they wrecked is because they were talking to their girlfriend or boyfriend,” Juneau Police Chief Greg Browning said. “Not everybody is going to admit to the fact that they were distracted when the accident occurred.”

According to distraction.gov, a U.S. Department of Transportation website dedicated to distracted driving, 16 percent of fatal crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving and 20 percent of injury crashes involved distracted driving. In 2005, only 10 percent of fatal crashes involved distracted driving, the website states.

“Even though we are making progress as far as total crashes they are more and more often becoming distracted driving crashes,” Browning said. “That is an item of concern.”

Distracted driving is categorized in three levels, according to the website: visual — taking your eyes off the road, manual — taking your hands off the wheel and cognitive – taking your mind off what you’re doing.

While all distractions can endanger drivers’ safety, texting is the most alarming because it involves all three types of distraction.

The University of Utah published a report that stated cell phone use while driving, whether the phone is hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08.

On Sept. 1, 2008, Alaska’s House Bill 88 went into effect. The law is commonly referred to as a text-messaging ban, but it also includes all kinds of distractions, including televisions, monitors, portable computers and similar devices in motor vehicles.

The law specifically prohibits unlawful installation of a television, monitor or similar device. In Alaska it’s illegal if a driver can see a television, video monitor, portable computer or any other type of visual display while he or she is in a normal driving position and the monitor or visual display is operating while the person is driving.

Violators of the law receive a misdemeanor and fine, unless injury or death results; then the driver is charged with a felony.

Four bills have been presented in the Legislature to prohibit the use of a cellular telephone when driving a motor vehicle: HBs 22, 35, 68, and 128.

“In my opinion it is not just cell phone use,” Browning said. “It is a number of things that people do that are distracting. Cars are getting more and more complex, people are trying to do things like eat dinner or do their hair. Driving needs to be your number one and only concern when you are behind the wheel.”

He also pointed out the distraction required to cause an accident can be a short one.

“People need to remember to focus their attention on one thing and that is driving because things happen in a second,” Browning said. “In the time you are sending a text someone could pull out in front of you or somebody could walk in front of your car. Anything could happen. The time you are behind the wheel should be dedicated to nothing but driving. When people drive they need to drive.”

• Contact Klas Stolpe at
523-2263 or klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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