Dangerous When Distracted: Walkers and Bicyclists, Watch Out for Distracted Drivers

With the increased use of mobile devices, drivers are more likely to become distracted behind the wheel. According to a recent study, this reckless behavior contributes to a growing share of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.

Fatality rates among pedestrians and bicyclists went up from 2005 to 2010, the study found, though overall vehicular deaths dropped during that period.

“We’re constantly exposed to distracted drivers,” Fernando Wilson, the study’s author and an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said in a news release. “I don’t think there’s a day that I don’t see someone driving and using their cellphone. A lot of times they’re texting. It’s something that’s pervasive in society. That’s one of the reasons it’s so difficult to deal with.”

In 2010, 500 pedestrians died because of distracted drivers, up about 45 percent from 344 in 2005, the researchers found. During that same time period, the number of bicyclists killed by distracted drivers rose 30 percent, from 56 to 73.

Using data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the study determined that pedestrian victims of distracted-driving crashes were disproportionately non-Hispanic white males between the ages of 25 and 64. Bicyclist victims also were mostly white males between 25 and 64.

Distracted Driving Awareness

Distraction.gov, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, reports that 3,328 people died due to distracted driving accidents in 2012.

To educate the public on the dangers of this behavior, the NHTSA has sponsored a number of initiatives since 2009, including distracted driving summits, a ban on texting and cellphone use by commercial drivers, a push for states to enact tougher laws and several campaigns to raise awareness.

The NHTSA provides these definitions for the three main types of distraction:

  • Manual distraction – Actions that involve taking your hands off the wheel such as eating or applying makeup
  • Visual distraction – Taking your eyes off the road for activities such as checking your cellphone
  • Cognitive distraction – Taking your mind off driving for activities such as text messaging

South Carolina and Distracted Driving

At this time, 41 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit texting while driving. Additionally, 12 states bar drivers from using handheld cellphones altogether. Some states prohibit all cellphone use by novice drivers. South Carolina does not have any statewide laws against distracted driving.

State Senator Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach, filed Senate Bill 186, which is designed to make distracted driving a felony when any deaths are involved, myhorrynews.com reported. Rankin’s bill would enable law enforcement to charge distracted drivers who have caused fatalities with reckless vehicular homicide within three years of the accident.

The legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The General Assembly may take up the issue in 2014.