Distracted driving a key factor in crashes involving young drivers

09/11/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
(Host) State Highway Safety Officials say they're concerned about the growing number of people who text on their cell phones while they're driving.

A new study shows that distracted driving is a key factor in half of all crashes involving drivers under 20.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) According to the Governor's Highway Safety Program, there's no doubt that more and more Vermont drivers are texting while they're operating their cars.

Chuck Saterfield is the Sheriff's liaison for the program. Speaking on VPRs Vermont Edition, he said the proliferation of cell phone use among drivers under 50 poses a serious safety risk:

(Saterfield) "So obviously we're a nation of texting cell phone using Americans. The number has just grown astronomicall,y which means there are a lot more people not paying attention while they're driving. I don't think there's anybody in this state or in this country who doesn't see a dozen people a day talking on the cell phone while they're driving or texting or performing some other action."

(Kinzel) Studies indicate that about 10% of all crashes in Vermont involve distracted drivers - that's roughly 3000 crashes a year.  Saterfield says the number is much higher for drivers under 20:

(Saterfield) "For younger drivers, distracted driving and technology related distractions account for almost 50% of their crashes and this is a brand new study that just came out yesterday."

(Kinzel) The National Governors Highway Safety Program is calling on states to enact legislation that would make it illegal to text and drive. Saterfield thinks this kind of law can be effective in dealing with this problem:

(Saterfield)"If there's even a comparison that driving drunk and texting have the same impact on your driving skills why is it acceptable in a society? And I am as frustrated as other people. We shouldn't need laws to do the right thing."

(Kinzel) Tony Facos is the police chief of Montpelier. He says he sees many examples of distracted driving every day.

He thinks it's very important that any legislation be clear and specific about the type of activity that's being banned:

(Facos)"I would just caution anybody drafting such legislation that it not be vague. Was reaching for that cup of coffee a violation, versus blatantly reading that book or looking straight down at your cell phone and texting?  It needs to be very clear."

(Kinzel) The House and Senate Transportation committees are expected to look at this issue in January.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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