Distracted drivers raise road risks

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Text-messaging while driving has become quite a problem,Mississippi Highway Patrol officials said, and may be a factor inmany needless accidents.

MHP Troop M Public Affairs Officer Sgt. Rusty Boyd said there’sreally no way to tell how many accidents are caused each year bytext-messaging, but that it’s more than likely not a lownumber.

“Louisiana has a somewhat restricting law about it geared mostlytoward young drivers, and I believe that will eventually happenhere,” Boyd said. “But it’s a dangerous habit, and there’s no wayto know about how many wrecks that causes.”

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Boyd said the problem is not just the act of texting that is sodangerous, but more the distraction while driving that causeswrecks. He said that kind of problem can come from a variety ofactivities.

“It’s mostly the attention factor, whatever draws your attentionaway from things you should be paying attention to,” he said. “Justdriving a vehicle is already multitasking, and then you add yourradio and iPod, then throw in a cell phone, and then you’re doingway too much.”

Boyd said it’s better to prepare for a drive before a trip,including looking at maps, operating GPS devices and findingdirections. He said having your mind on things other than what’sgoing on on the road is ultimately extremely dangerous.

“It’s just not paying attention to things you’re supposed to bedoing and not seeing what you’re looking at,” he said, adding thata majority of accidents between motorcycles and cars are causedbecause people turn in front of motorcycles.

“They’ll tell us, ‘I didn’t see him,'” he said. “They don’tactually see what they’re looking at because their mind issomewhere else.”

Boyd said a good way to prevent a lot of the problems is to usea hands-free device when talking on the phone when driving. Thatdoesn’t help with texting, he said, but anything that takes as muchconcentration as texting shouldn’t be done on the road.

There are charges that can be pursued against drivers if theyare not driving safely due to texting or other distractingactivities.

“There’s a careless driving charge, which is not as bad asreckless driving, and it’s actually for driving in a manner notusing due regard for the circumstances you’re in,” he said, addingthat a vehicle can be extremely dangerous.

“You take a gun and you lay it on a table. And as long as youdon’t touch it, it’s safe as it can be, but put it in the wronghands and someone uses it in the wrong manner, it can kill you,” hesaid. “A vehicle is safe as long as you use it in a safe manner,but if you use it in the wrong way it can become a deadlyweapon.”

It’s better for drivers to make the decision to be safe and payattention to the road than to be put in a situation when they seehow bad it can be if they don’t.

“Everybody, every once in a while needs a wake-up call,” hesaid. “If you’re lucky, you don’t end up in a hospital. Otherpeople are not so lucky and end up in a hospital before theyrealize the dangerous situation they put themselves and otherpeople in.”