If you’re driving the Freeway in heavy traffic, chances are that a driver in the next lane, directly ahead of you or in your rearview mirror is reading or writing a text message, according to recent traffic research.
“If you think you’re safe on the Capital Beltway, think again,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA. “We have an epidemic of distracted driving out there.”
Anderson joined Virginia officials and police Monday in the first of several events this week that will address talking on cellphones and text messaging on the nation’s highways. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will host a seminar on distracted drivers this week in Washington.
An issue is defined as having crossed a certain threshold of identification in American culture when it spawns a trunk load of bumper stickers… and cellphone use while driving has achieved that stature. Several recent bumber stickers:… “Hang up and drive,” and “Guns don’t kill people, cellphones kill people.”
Almost 90 percent of Americans own cellphones, and one national survey found that eight in 10 drivers talk on their phones while behind the wheel, about 1 million of them at any given moment. Cellphone use has been cited as a factor in an estimated 342,000 auto accident injuries.
Despite an awareness that distracted drivers are a hazard, many Americans continue to use cellphones and text while driving. When AAA recently studied the habits of Beltway drivers in Virginia, the group found that more than half of drivers used their cell phones on Interstate 495 every day, and a quarter of them send or receive text messages daily.
Anderson said they found that more than half of Beltway drivers are distracted by cellphone use and that those drivers are twice as likely to have an accident or a “near-miss.”
AAA last week urged all state governments to ban texting while driving. It currently is banned in the District and Virginia, while Maryland’s ban will take effect Thursday. The Governors Highway Safety Association, a national nonprofit organization which represents state safety offices, has endorsed a ban on texting and using cellphones for newly licensed drivers.