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Nearly five children are hit by people driving every day in Illinois while walking or biking within one block of a school.

Distracted driving not getting any safer

The NY Times wrote a pretty powerful story on the dangers of distracted driving. Complete with a video and interactive game, the story makes two points:

  • driving while texting, cell phoning, web surfing and any other distraction is extremely dangerous
  • most people underestimate how distracted they are when using those devices

The story offers plenty of stats: distracted (i.e. texting, talking on cell phones..even hands-free) is as dangerous as driving with a blood alochol level of .08. Cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries, according to a Harvard study.

When I tried playing the texting-while-driving interactive game, not only could I not stay on the road, but I couldn't recall a simple thing a co-worker said to me while I was busy texting and driving.

The paper ran another story that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration withheld research that shows how dangerous driving while texting or cell phoning is.

The former head of the highway safety agency said he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states.

Critics say that rationale and the failure of the Transportation Department, which oversees the highway agency, to more vigorously pursue distracted driving has cost lives and allowed to blossom a culture of behind-the-wheel multitasking.

“We’re looking at a problem that could be as bad as drunk driving, and the government has covered it up,” said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety.

The good news is that plenty of research backs up what we already know: driving while texting and cell phoning is deadly. Moreover, bicyclists and pedestrians are impacted much more because they are the most vulnerable (no seatbelts, no airbags, no car frame to protect them). The bad news is that a lot of legislation was dismissed because legislators don't get it.

“I’m on the phone from when I leave the Capitol to when I get home, and that’s a two-hour drive,” said Tad Jones, the majority floor leader in the Oklahoma House, who helped block the legislation. “A lot of people who travel are used to using the phone.”

What?