West Palm Beach Traffic Safety: Maybe You Are a Bad Driver Even Without Your Phone

Maybe you are just a bad driver — with or without a cell phone behind the wheel.

West Palm Beach injury attorneys know distraction plays a major part in many accidents. And we write frequently about Florida’s lack of a distracted driving law.

However, we tend to agree with a new study published in Science Magazine this month, which suggests drivers who frequently use a cell phone behind the wheel may be just as dangerous without it.

The findings were published this month in Accident Analysis & Prevention. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge, looked at the driving habits of 108 drivers in two groups — those who reportedly used cell phones frequently behind the wheel and those who rarely did so. Data was collected from onboard censors during a 40-minute commute up I-93 north of Boston. Drivers were also questioned about their history of traffic citations, as well as their feelings on motor-vehicle safety issues, such as speeding or disobeying traffic-control devices.

While no cell phones were permitted to be used during the study, researchers determined that drivers who reported regular cell phone use behind the wheel were more likely to engage in other dangerous or distracted behaviors while driving, including driving too fast, changing lanes frequently, or abruptly using the gas or brake.

“It’s clear that cell phones in and of themselves impair the ability to manage the demands of driving,” said Bryan Reimer, one of the study’s leaders. “(But) the fundamental problem may be the behavior of the individuals willing to pick up the technology.”

Researchers say it may be one reason why accident rates have actually declined (in large part because of the economic downturn) even as the popularity of smartphones has exploded. It may also be why state distracted driving laws do not seem to be having a significant impact on accident rates.

“It’s great we can take the phone out of their hands, but these may be the drivers who are getting in accidents anyway,” said Reimer.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says those results jibe with the organization’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which continues to show drivers recognize dangerous driving behaviors even as the continue to engage in such behaviors behind the wheel.

Over the last 5 years many states have passed laws banning text messaging behind the wheel. Nearly a dozen have banned all hand-held cell phone use by drivers. The last 12 months has seen a few remaining holdouts — including Ohio — finally pass some form of distracted-driving legislation.

But not Florida. Not only is the Sunshine State one of the few remaining states in the nation without a distracted driving law on the books, lawmakers have actually passed legislation forbidding local city and county governments from passing their own distracted driving measures.

The Governors Highway Safety Association reports only Florida, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and South Dakota have no distracted driving law on the books.

What this means for you is that keeping your cell phone out from behind the wheel is only part of the battle. Focusing on the road, and practicing defensive driving habits are vital to staying safe behind the wheel. When you give driving the attention and respect it deserves, you are going a long way toward ensuring your safety and the safety of others on the road.