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Distracted People: Too Unsafe to Be Around?

By Lucy Belnora
News | February 10, 2010

SALINA, Kan. - The State of Kansas currently has legislation pending related to distracted driving. The legislation (Kansas House Bill 2132) would prohibit text messaging while operating a motor vehicle. Specifically, drivers in Kansas would be prohibited from sending, reading or writing a "text message by means of an electronic wireless communications device."

On any given day last year, an estimated 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone who used a hand-held cell phone at some point during their drive, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A recent study in the journal Human Factors has found that texting while driving is riskier than talking on a cell phone or with other passengers while driving.

Researchers found that people texting in driving simulators had more accidents and were less attentive to the road than those who talked on cell phones while using a simulator.

Though young people are most at risk, people of all ages are using a variety of hand-held devices, such as cell phones, personal digital assistants, and navigation devices when they are behind the wheel - or just walking.

Siobhan Wicks was texting her roommate while walking down the stairs in her Aurora home when suddenly her world turned topsy turvy.

"I missed a step. I have no idea how it happened but all I know is I was on the floor," said the 29-year-old Wicks. "I'm a physical therapist so I knew immediately that I had broken my toe. I knew something had happened because it hurt. I took my sock off and, yep, my toe was dislocated."

After collecting herself, Wicks called her roommate at work who rushed home and took her to the hospital where her foot was placed in an orthopedic shoe to heal. Slightly embarrassed, she declined to volunteer to medical staff what she was doing when she took her fall.

Texting-on-the-go is one of the latest, ubiquitous hazards to life and limb sparked by our high-tech age. Fortunately, most of injuries are of the minor bump-and-bruise variety from people walking into lampposts, falling down stairs and bumping into others while looking down at the tiny keyboards of their cell phones, iphones and Blackberry devices.

"Think about it. How many people now do you see who are walking and texting in crosswalks and on sidewalks or in hallways," said trauma surgeon Dr. Thomas Esposito at Loyola University Health System in Maywood. "I recently saw a person texting and riding a bicycle with one hand. If you're going to do that, all I can say is, you better be wearing a helmet."

Wicks considers herself lucky. Her moment of inattention resulted only in a broken toe and a few weeks having to endure the good-natured ribbing of friends and co-workers. However, there are times when texting-on-the-go has the potential to be far more serious, and even deadly, especially when the distraction involves a person behind the wheel.

"I'm not ashamed that I was doing something else while walking down the stairs but I've found that I obviously can't do two things at once," she said.

In Illinois, people who text while driving could find themselves facing a $75 fine for a first offense. The law, which went into effect in January, bars motorists from composing or reading text messages.

The Illinois law, however, has a flaw. It doesn't ban people from dialing a number or scrolling to find a number on their cell phones and other electronic devices.

Safety advocates also say that Kansas laws don't go far enough to protect motorists since operating electronic devices is still legal for licensed drivers over the age of 17 in Kansas.

Critics claim that even the newly proposed texting laws will be impossible to enforce in Kansas. Speaking for three law enforcement associations, former Topeka Police Chief Ed Klumpp said he believes the law would be enforceable, "If you're sitting there holding your cell phone and you're doing a lot of typing on that thing and you're never putting it to your ear and your lips are never moving, we in law enforcement call that a clue."

"All it takes is a few seconds of inattentive driving to cause a very serious accident," said Pete Bodyk, manager of the Kansas Department of Transportation's traffic safety section.

"Other municipalities and states across the country have been proactive in protecting the public from themselves by restricting the chances of distraction when it comes to texting and cell phone use while driving," Esposito said.

Esposito thinks that we need policies that protect people whether they are driving or not, "It's more than about texting and driving. It's more than about texting and walking. It's about being distracted."

He added, "If you're doing something that warrants your undivided attention, like walking down the stairs or driving, you should give it your undivided attention. I'm a surgeon and I don't think you would like me to perform surgery on you while texting, would you?"


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