Distractions for drivers have multiplied, but divided attention could be deadly
When it comes to driving behind the wheel of an automobile, distractions can be everywhere. On the road with fellow drivers, looking closely at car accidents along the road, advertisements on billboards, fiddling with the controls on the radio and especially over the past decade, using a cell phone to make calls and send and receive text messages.
Carbon County is no different than any other area. Taking a drive through the city streets chances are some people will be sitting at a stoplight with a cell phone in one hand and their other hand placed on the steering wheel. In the bigger cities, with people dealing with rush hour traffic, it's not uncommon to see people doing everything from eating breakfast on the go, putting makeup on, texting and talking on the phone while driving.
Debbie Marvidikis, a health educator with the Southeastern Utah Health Department, said distracted driving has become a bigger issue over the past few years. With the rise in the amount of people with a cell phone and access to a car, it can become a lethal combination for some.
Over the past year, Carbon and Emery County residents have seen the effects of accidents on U.S. 6 and other roads in the county. Since the summer, the two counties have seen a number of accidents on the roads, some of which included multiple deaths.
"It's a tragedy to see this things happen," Marvidikis said. "People who drive distracted are putting others around them in danger and at the same time they are endangering themselves."
Marvidikis is concerned about the teen population and the effects distracted driving can have on them. With the impact cell phones have on people on a daily basis, through text messaging, using the internet and calling friends and family, it can be possible to forget the dangers that those actions pose while behind the wheel, Marvidikis said.
"Teens are at a bigger risk to drive distracted because they don't have a lot of experience driving," she explained. Studies from the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) show that up to 25 percent of distracted drivers out on the roads today are teenagers.
Just as drivers, both young and old, might be quick to check to see if they have their wallet and cell phone while getting behind the wheel, they may skip other important moves including checking the mirrors in the car and putting on their seat belt. Many of these actions, Marvidikis said, could be done if people took a few moments to slow down instead of rushing things.
"Some people are in such so much of a hurry, they forget to take a moment to put their seat belt on," she said.
From the perspective of local law enforcement, the issue of distracted or careless driving is no different in Price than anywhere else.
"I don't think this is more of a problem here than anywhere else in the country," said Bill Barnes, a sergeant with the Price Police Department. Barnes said the department has seen a number of accidents where people have admitted to texting or talking on the phone before the accident occurred.
While distracted and careless driving, classified as when two or more violations occur within a short period of time, can be a problem for any law enforcement agency to deal with, Barnes said local officers are not just looking for people who are driving distracted. Instead officers are trained to observe everything going on around them.
"We have a renewed emphasis on being watchful for any and all moving violations out there, including distracted and careless driving," Barnes explained.
To combat the issue of distracted driving locally, Marvidikis said she and others at the Health Department have handed out cards and information about the effects of driving distracted. The Health Department has also worked closely with local high schools to bring in speakers and get the information out to teens directly.
One program in place at Carbon High School has seen a group of students, who have exhibited good driving skills and no citations, get the chance to go up to Camp Williams to participate at a driving course. The day long event, put on by the Utah Highway Patrol and in conjunction with high schools around the state, also includes classroom time with the students learning about the effects of distracted driving through videos, interviews with families who have lost loved ones and more.
"I think law enforcement and the educators are doing a good job of getting students to understand the issues," Barnes said.
One of the ways the issue of distracted driving is being combated nationally is through the "Put it Down" program. "Put it Down" is a broad, public-private partnership of community and health groups, safety advocates, businesses, law enforcement, legislators, public officials, concerned citizens and those who have lost loved ones because of a distracted driver, according to information from the NHTSA.
"There are no do-overs with an accident because of distracted driving," Marvidikis said.
Across the nation, distracted driving has brought about legislation with many states adopting laws regarding the use of cell phones while driving. According to the NHTSA, as of January 2011, nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands ban all hand-held cell phone use for all drivers. Also 32 states, including the District of Columbia, ban texting by all drivers.
In Utah, two bills in the House and Senate concern talking and texting while driving for minors. Utah Senate Bill 113 prohibits a person younger than 18 years of age from using a wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. With Utah House Bill 290, it can add a careless driving violation to an individual using a hand-held wireless device for text messaging or sending and receiving e-mails while operating a motor vehicle.
Even police officers are not exempt from the effects of distractions in their squad cars. With computers, radar equipment and other devices to watch, Barnes said officers, like all drivers, need to take precautions with what they are doing while on the job.
"Nobody should take anything for granted while driving because life is full of all kinds of surprises out on the roads," Barnes said.
Barnes suggested drivers take precautions with anything you are doing while driving, whether it's changing the radio station, putting makeup on or reaching around in the car for something in particular.
"Many people exhibit the thought while driving that nothing bad will never happen to me," he said. "Taking precautions before getting behind the wheel of a car can go a long way."