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Richson: Distracted while driving

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | FEBRUARY 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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An Iowa Senate subcommittee discussed a bill last week that would ultimately strengthen legislation combating texting while driving.

To date, legislation outlines texting while driving as a secondary rather than primary offense, meaning that in order to be cited for texting while driving, a driver must also break an additional rule of the road.

The legislation is being reconsidered as of Feb. 19, but only because it was not general enough for certain legislators. The proposed bill would expand beyond texting to include nearly any activity dealing with a mobile device that can distract drivers.

Texting while driving is obviously risky business if one is cruising with the flow of highway traffic, but texting while driving also has dangerous connotations in the bustling pedestrian context of Iowa City.

Iowa City police Sgt. Vicki Lalla said texting while driving in either context is dangerous but also different.

“On the highway, speeds are faster, which makes accidents more serious,” she said. “Texting while driving is dangerous regardless of where you’re doing it.”

But then we add pedestrians into the equation, who — surprise — are also on their phones, whether to text, play their turn in Words With Friends, or to change the song they are listening to through their headphones.

However, it does seem that we often neglect to consider other common distractions that occur for both drivers and pedestrians. Driving, regardless of most drivers being too stubborn to admit it, is about active cognition and reaction, as is being a pedestrian on a busy street.

Where does the regulation of distractions end?

Research conducted by the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital found that pedestrian distractions such as texting or listening to music factored into total time taken to cross a street. Texters, not surprisingly, were not very urgent walkers, whereas those who listened to music moved comparably faster.

Combining the statistics that one-tenth of drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 are on their phones at a given time and that texting makes drivers 23 times more likely to crash is unsettling at the least.

But rather than attaching a monetary fine to texting while driving that is not unlike the price of a drinking ticket, it might be time to make texting while driving a primary offense.

In the wake of Iowa’s cruel winter, pedestrians are not about to nix the headphones that make their walks home pass by quicker, so for now, the heat is on legislators and drivers.


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