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November 2011 

Study: Drivers think texting is dangerous, but still do it AAA report shows 35 percent admit to reading, sending texts

by Kayla Castille
CNHI News Service


MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Almost all motorists believe texting while driving is dangerous, but more than a third of them do it anyway, according to a study released Monday.


The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's fourth-annual Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that 95 percent of drivers view texting or emailing by other drivers as dangerous, but 35 percent of those same drivers admit to having read or sent a text message while driving in the past month.

The disconnect persists despite increased awareness in recent years about the dangers of texting while driving, as well as laws banning the practice in many states, the AAA Foundation says.


"This research continues to illustrate a 'do as I say, not as I do,' attitude that persists among drivers, and perpetuates the threat of cell phone use while driving," said AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety President and CEO Peter Kissinger.  "Changing our nation's traffic safety culture requires drivers to take responsibility for their actions and alter their own behaviors on the road."

Other distracted driving findings from the study, conducted in June among a representative sample of 3,147 drivers ages 16 and up, include:

  • Of those who admitted to reading or typing text messages or emails while driving (35 percent of all drivers), more than half of them said they regularly read texts or emails while stopped at red lights. Sixteen percent admitted to reading text messages or emails  on a freeway in heavy traffic, and 9 percent admitted to typing out messages in the same situation.
  • More than 67 percent of all drivers admitted to having talked on a cell phone while driving. More than half of those said they usually answer calls while stopped at a red light, and 28 percent of them admitted to answering calls while driving on a freeway in heavy traffic.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia now have anti-texting laws, and according to the survey, 87 percent of drivers support those laws. But some of them still text and drive.

"They still do it even though they know laws are in effect," said AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety senior communications manager Carol Ronis. "Most of these people agree that the laws are good and should be there."


AAA is pushing for all 50 states to adopt the texting ban but says public education and enforcement are key in making them work.


A statewide ban on not just writing but also reading text messages went into effect in Maryland on Oct. 1. The legislative bodies in Pennsylvania and Ohio are considering texting bans in their current sessions. And in 2012, AAA plans to lobby for texting bans in all the remaining states, said Justin McNaull, AAA's director of state relations.

Car start buttons to detect blood-alcohol levels

Submitted by KC Kelly


The auto supplier, Takata, based in Auburn Hills is partnering with TruTouch, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and they are working on an incredibly innovative project. The two companies are working on a device that will be able to check a driver's blood-alcohol level through their skin.

The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) is helping Takata and TruTouch to make this blood-alcohol level device possible. The company gave the partners a $2.25-million grant for development.


These blood-alcohol level readers will be as accurate as a true blood test that would be taken at a doctor's office. The company is doing their best to make the device inexpensive (for what it is) at a price of $200 per unit. Susan Ferguson, the program director for Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety shared that she believes it will take between eight and ten years before we see this device on the market.


So, how will this contraption work? The company will use its already "breadbox-sized" device that uses an infrared sensor for the detection of blood alcohol levels. The team is working on making this device even smaller so that it can actually fit on an automobile's start button inside the car. The new device will be inexpensive and inconspicuous. These great features make an innovative and ground-breaking new piece of technology to possibly deter drinking and driving.


Kirk Morris, Takata's vice president of business development made this statement: "The goal is to take impaired drivers off the road. Breathalyzers are invasive. You have to blow into a tube. If this technology is to be used on a daily basis, we want it to be noninvasive, not intrusive. Drivers pushing a button wouldn't even know it's there."


Other motivations behind this new device are pioneering, to say the least. The small discreet blood-alcohol level device would be able to decrease the processing time from several seconds to 200 milliseconds. This will possibly make breathalyzer tests obsolete eventually and stop the obtrusive and longer time span on determining blood alcohol levels. Plus, a driver will not have to be put into a position where law enforcement is doing a breathalyzer test on them, which is usually done in public on a street or highway and takes much longer.


In addition, the device is said to be able to function at almost any temperature. This includes room temperature and temperatures from 40 below to 85 degrees, not to mention also at different humidity and vibration levels.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is completely on board with this new blood-alcohol level testing device. In a statement, NHTSA stated that the project, "Is seen as a potential tool for keeping drunk drivers from being able to operate their car if their blood-alcohol concentration is at or above the legal intoxication limit (.08 or higher). The technology could be voluntarily installed as an option for new cars and signal a new frontier in the fight against drunk driving."

More DWI Arrests Under Thibodaux's New Chief


Thibodaux Police have already made 100 drunken driving arrests this year, four times the number posted in all of 2010.


Thibodaux's new Police Chief Scott Silverii told The Daily Comet of Thibodaux that the increase results from finding problem areas and recognizing that intoxicated drivers don't just drive between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m.


Thibodaux officers made 27 Driving While Intoxicated arrests last year. The total for 2011, as of early last week was 108.


Silverii said the department's program known as "Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety" is a big reason for the increase.


Police use the program to keep track of areas where the most crimes and car crashes occur.

Drivers in the 17-25 age range accounted for 36 of this year's DWI arrests in Thibodaux. Those ages 26-35 accounted for 34 DWI arrests, while drivers 36-45 accounted for 14 arrests. Drivers age 46 and older accounted for 24 arrests.


Silverii, who became police chief in January, also said he trained officers in giving field-sobriety tests. 

Don't view speed cameras as a revenue stream


A few years ago we saw an uproar about red-light cameras, which snap photos of license plates of vehicles that pass the camera sensor after the light turns red. The registered owner of any vehicle that triggers a photograph receives a citation. Because there is no way to determine who is driving at the time of the infraction, these citations are capped and do not include points against anyone's driving license.

In October 2009, the Maryland legislature passed a bill allowing municipalities to use photo speed monitoring systems in school zones, and to issue citations or warnings to drivers who speed in excess of 12 mph above the posted speed limit. Fines cannot exceed $40 and citations can only be, by state law, civil penalties. Like the red-light camera citations, there is no impact on a driving record.

And thus, the city of Salisbury has now installed speed cameras in four of its school zones, based on pedestrian traffic and complaints about speeding. They have not gone live yet, but as of Friday, the warnings about violations will be replaced with $40 citations.

The same objections are being raised: It's unconstitutional because the ticket is issued to the vehicle owner, not the driver, and because you can't confront your accuser (a camera) in court. And a new one specific to speed cameras --they will operate from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, whether school is in session or not, which critics say goes well beyond the scope of increased safety for students.

Similar justifications are also applied: Knowing the cameras are present will serve as a deterrent and by slowing motorists down, increase safety; using the automated system will free police officers to deal with more serious issues; and the city will save money because it has hired a private vendor to install, operate and maintain the cameras.

There is a need for some kind of action. In March 2010, a study conducted by the Salisbury Police Department at Wicomico Middle School recorded more than 6,800 vehicles traveling 12 mph or more above the posted limit within a seven-day period. The camera vendor, Brekford Corp., conducted its own studies at the four proposed sites in July, just prior to installation. On a single day between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., the number of vehicles traveling at 12 or more mph above the posted limits ranged from 73 to 2,914.

Fruitland has rotated a speed camera between its two school zones since February 2010. Anecdotally, at least, the camera's presence has had the desired effect; a West Main Street resident said
motorists passing his home have slowed to a crawl since the cameras began to rotate between the school zones.

However, despite a clear need for intervention -- for safety's sake -- traffic camera critics have valid concerns. And they are correct to point out that people can avoid citations by obeying posted speed limits --and are careful about who drives their vehicles.

However, while it's great that private-sector companies are willing to pay installation and operation costs, taking full responsibility for expenses, there are risks whenever public safety and profits are

According to a study conducted by Maryland PIRG, "Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead: The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public," while individual contracts differ, vendors may impose penalties for failing to produce a sufficient volume of citations or for early termination of a program.

Given today's economic climate, the temptation to place revenue above safety concerns -- and the need to avoid additional taxpayer expense by hiring a private vendor -- have meant that these
systems are spreading rapidly across the country. This is a growth industry that is also amassing political clout.

Some things operate more efficiently when privatized, it's true; others, however, not so much. Public safety and law enforcement are among those things that are generally best kept separated from the profit motive.

Salisbury's vendor, we are told, imposes no quotas, minimum revenue requirements or penalties for early termination of the program. As long as public safety is the only focus --and the cameras act as a deterrent to speeding, not a revenue stream for vendor or city, then residents should give the program a chance to prove itself beneficial.