Bike-Walk Alliance of NH ==
Distracted Drivers, our biggest risk on the road
you can talk or text and drive safely at the same time? Think again!
February 2013 update:
New "buzz-words" about distracted driving are part of the awareness program developed by the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation. Their "Distractology 101" simulator and "crash course" are aimed at younger drivers but the free on-line quiz is good for anyone. Check it out at: http://www.distractu.com.
Increased distracted driving awareness training for UPS: On February 1, two of the four computerized distracted driving simulators owned by the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth were loaned to the United Parcel Service for use in their six NH centers. UPS drivers are generally considered to be some of the safest and most courteous on the road but there is always room for improvement. The on-going UPS safety and training programs now have another tool to use for three weeks at no charge. Training in the set-up, use, and transportation of the simulators for two UPS employees was conducted by BWA-NH in our Concord office.
NH-DOT "Driving Toward Zero" program includes distracted driving: BWA-NH was requested to be the bike-ped representative on the NH-DOT "Driving Toward Zero" highway safety program which includes distracted driving awareness. This is a "pet project" of NH-DOT Commissioner Chris Clement and will allow routine contact with his staff on bike-ped safety concerns and more. At some point, use of the distracted driving simulators in the program is considered likely.
At the February 22 DTZ meeting at NH-DOT, the program leadership of ten people addressed seventeen members and guests to review progress made to date and plans looking ahead. BWA-NH will be working on two sub-committees addressing vulnerable road users and education with NH-DMV taking the lead. The second sub-committee involving BWA-NH concerns distracted and impaired driving where greater use of the five simulators will be incorporated. Detailed plans for 2013 will be submitted to the DTZ steering committee by April 15.
more info about the DTZ program, please visit the NH-DOT
Driving Toward Zero web site.
November 2012 update:
computerized distracted driving simulator owned by BWA-NH was used in Laconia
NH for a presentation and hands-on activities at the Statewide Driving School
operated by Doug Lamarre. The evening session on November 1 was well received
by twelve students who saw both the crashes and consequences of distracted driving.
Plans are underway for the school to borrow the Injury Prevention Center simulators
for a week to allow all students to "take the wheel".
Training in the use of four simulators available for free loan from the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth is available at the Safety and Health Council of Northern New England. BWA-NH supports the program, training, and simulator hardware maintenance efforts as we work together to raise awareness of distracted and impaired driving, two of the highest risks to bicyclists on our shared roadways.
For info about scheduling a free loan of the simulators or to arrange a presentation, see the Distracted Driving page on this web site.
September 2012 update:
On August 20, BWA-NH had the opportunity to give a presentation on distracted driving at the main NH-DMV office on Hazen Drive, Concord to about 100 driver education instructors from around the state plus various State Police officers. After reviewing some fact, figures, and folklore, the Virtual Driver Interactive distracted driving simulator was used with the video projected on the screen and the audio boosted by speakers in the auditorium to allow everyone to view and hear the action. Skilled driver-ed instructors took the wheel of the simulator only to "crash" before long - and then for all to see the consequences of distracted and impaired driving. A follow-up email issued by NH-DMV prompted several driver-ed instructors to request copies of the BWA-NH presentation and to schedule the simulators for use in their classes.
More of this....................... equals less of this.
Training in the use of four simulators available for free loan from the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth is available at the Safety and Health Council of Northern New England. BWA-NH supports the program, training, and simulator hardware maintenance efforts as we work together to raise awareness of distracted and impaired driving, one of the highest risks to bicyclists on our shared roadways.
August 2012 update:
To be included in the presentations scheduled for August 13 and 20 in Concord will be actual photos of what happened to some NH bicyclists as a result of distracted driving by motorists. Come to the BWA-NH / GSW general meeting on August 13 to see for yourself.
July 2012 update:
distracted driving simulator owned by BWA-NH will be part of the main program
at the joint GSW / BWA-NH general meeting on August 13 at our 57 Regional Drive
office, Concord. Guests will be able to "take the wheel" to convince
themselves and others that cell phones, texting, and impairments like drugs
and alcohol do not allow for safe driving - and to show the consequences.
A second presentation using the simulator is scheduled for August 20 at the main NH-DMV office on Hazen Drive, Concord. The audience will be driver education instructors from around the state plus various police officers. Training in the use of four simulators available for free loan from the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth is available at the Safety and Health Council of Northern New England. BWA-NH supports the program, training, and simulator hardware maintenance efforts as we work together to raise awareness of distracted and impaired driving, one of the highest risks to bicyclists on our shared roadways.
June 2012 update:
With school systems
now in the summer vacation period, driver's education schools, police departments,
NH-DMV, and major companies including UPS and PSNH are scheduling training and
free loans of the four Injury Prevention Center distracted driving simulators
or presentations by BWA-NH using our simulator and a projection system. This
effort will continue throughout the year while the public school demand is low.
For more information about the simulators, the free loan program, or to schedule
a presentation, see below or contact the BWA-NH office at email@example.com
or call 603.898.9926.
May 2012 update:
On April 11, BWA-NH participated in the second full day of the statewide Safety and Health Conference as held at the Grappone Center in Concord. Another full day conference in Meredith on April 24 as sponsored by the NH Traffic Safety Agency also highlighted the dangers of distracted and impaired driving. At both conferences, the distracted driving simulators were demonstrated by the Injury Prevention Center staff of Dartmouth and BWA-NH with a very high-level of interest. School systems, driver's education schools, police departments, and major companies including UPS and PSNH are now scheduling training and free loans of the IPC simulators or presentations by BWA-NH using our simulator and a projection system. This effort will continue in June when the public school season is basically over and the simulators are available.
A key point is
that distractions while driving have been around as long as cars have been on
the road. It is really a matter of how much distraction occurs whether visual,
physical, or mental. Any distraction more than two seconds can easily result
in a crash. A quick glance at a GPS unit for which turn is coming up might not
be a problem, but five seconds to enter a phone number can be deadly. Just being
involved in a detailed or emotional phone call, hands-free included, will make
a person blind to what is immediately in front of him or her. And now a town
in New Jersey is ticketing "distracted walkers" after several fatalities
and many injuries caused when pedestrains were so intent on their phone or electronic
toy that they walked in front of traffic. Check
the article and video for more details.
Driving Simulator presentation set-up and system boxed for transit
by Jim Esdon at the NH Highway Safety Conference, Meredith, April 24, 2012.
Four simulators are available for free loan via the Dartmouth Injury Prevention Center. A one-hour training session in Lebanon or Concord is required for the operator to become familiar with the set-up, application software, viewing / extracting survey data, disassembly, and packing of the simulators. A liability agreement is then signed and the user transports the boxed simulators to their place of use and returns them (usually within a week) to the Lebanon or Concord office. Once a simulator is in place, it takes about 30 minutes for a "driver" to take both the distracted and impaired driving modules. To schedule a training session and free loan of one or more simulators, contact James Esdon at the Dartmouth Injury Prevention Center, James.E.Esdon@Dartmouth.EDU, 603.653.8356.
If the time required
for the organization or company does not allow everyone to "take a turn
at the wheel" or the training and travel required to borrow the units may
be a problem, BWA-NH is available to conduct demos and presentations using our
simulator, the fifth in NH. A presentation giving some distracted driving facts
to raise awareness then with one or two people taking turns "at the wheel"
while projecting the video with consequences on a screen can get the message
across to a large group in about an hour. This service is available from BWA-NH
for the northern NE area (NH, VT, and MA) at no charge other than travel expenses.
For more info or to schedule a presentation, contact Dave Topham at BWA-NH,
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 603.898.9926.
April 2012 update:
A touch-screen Distracted Driving Simulator from Virtual Driver Interactive and owned by BWA-NH was demonstrated to NH-DMV driver testing and licensing personnel who thought it was great. Plans are underway to have BWA-NH showcase the system in the NH-DMV auditorium to driver training instructors as part of a conference. A second topic will be the laws concerning interactions between motorists and bicyclists since we must share our roadways and responsibilities. BWA-NH is very pleased to have the support of NH-DMV as we continue to increase awareness of the true hazards associated with distracted driving. Cell calls, texting, setting up MP3 players, tuning the radio, and many other driving distractions often result in crashes which could be easily avoided by paying attention to the road, not gadgets.
Police Officer Russell Bailey and NH-DMV Supervisor of Driver Licensing
Jeffrey Oberdank checked out the BWA-NH distracted driving simulator
at the BWA-NH Concord office on March 27, 2012.
March 2012 update:
The distracted driving simulators will be on display as part of the 2012 Safety & Health Conference, April 10 & 11, at the Grappone Center in Concord and also at the NH Traffic Safety Conference, April 24, at the Church Landing in Meredith. BWA-NH is pleased to help demo the units and provide technical support. A total of four systems are available for loan from the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth Hospital while BWA-NH has one for demos and presentations.
With April being National Distracted Driver Awareness month, BWA-NH is pleased to be working with Miss Manchester Lissa Silk and the office of Governor John Lynch to help inform the public of this serious hazard affecting everyone on our shared roadways. Bicyclists and pedestrians are the most vulnerable but anyone even close to a distracted driver is in danger. Check out Lissa's blog about the meeting she had with BWA-NH Executive Director Linda Gould on March 3. Note the "DNT TXT N DRV" thumbands they are wearing. We are very pleased to have Miss Manchester as our 2012 Distracted Driving Spokesperson!
Manchester Lissa Silk and BWA-NH Exec. Dir. Linda Gould
displaying the "DNT TXT N DRV" thumbands, March 3, 2012.
Recently three Dover NH children in a crosswalk on their way to school were hit by a motorist who was distracted by her cell phone and tuning her radio. In another case, a Vermont girl was nearly killed in her own yard by a texting driver who drove off the road. At last report, the girl was still in a coma. Anti-texting laws and even cell phone bans are ineffective since enforcement is nearly impossible - except after a crash when cell phone records are pulled. The best we can do is to increase awareness of the dangers of using cell phones and other gadgets while driving. A person is far more important than a cell phone call or a text message.
BWA-NH has started demos and training sessions with their Virtual Driver Interactive touch-screen Distracted Driver Simulator in our Concord office. Informational brochures, pledge cards, IWNT&D certificate, and a flyer on the One Simple Decision application are available in conjunction with our demos. Samples may be downloaded from this web site. A US government web site devoted to this topic is also a good resource. BWA-NH plans to introduce a "Vulnerable User Law" in the next NH legislative session to provide enforcement agencies with a new tool to help curb distracted driving by allowing higher penalties.
February 2012 update:
Distracted driving awareness efforts continue with planning between BWA-NH, the Dartmouth Hospital Injury Prevention Center, and the Safety & Health Council of Northern New England. The program started last April when two distracted driving simulators were purchased via the NH Highway Safety Agency then loaned to various schools and driver education programs by the Dartmouth IPC. The feedback from users was so positive that two more simulators are expected to be purchased for IPC use this spring. Meanwhile, BWA-NH now owns a simulator which will be used for demos and training. The NH Department of Motor Vehicles has expressed an interest in having BWA-NH conduct demos at the annual Drivers Education Instructor's Conference in March. The simulators fit nicely into the National Safety Council driver training program. Additional public displays and demos are being planned as we do what we can to increase awareness proving that no one can safely drive and be playing with their electronic gadgets at the same time. Distracted drivers are one of the most serious hazards to bicyclists and pedestrians. Crashes are reported almost every week here in northern New England. Minor fines associated with anti-texting laws are usually only issued after a crash resulting in a serious injury or fatality. We need drivers to "hang up and drive" before the crash.
you know a driver just talking on a cell phone (hand-held or hands-free) is
twice as impaired as someone legally drunk at the 0.8 level? And texting while
driving equals four times the impairment of a drunk driver? Let's do what we
can to stop the crashes caused by distracted driving before they happen, not
just analyze cell phone records after a crash when someone, usually a bicyclist
or pedestrian, is seriously injured or killed.
For more info about the Distracted Driver Simulator from Virtual Driver Interactive, please contact Dave Topham at the BWA-NH office, email@example.com, 603.898.9926. For an on-line overview of the V-Touch model simulator and the "One Simple Decision" software, please visit http://www.driverinteractive.com/osdtrailer.shtml .
January 2012 update:
new Distracted Driver Simulator is now owned by BWA-NH.
This touch-screen unit will be used for training in our Concord office and demonstrated
around northern New England. There has been much discussion about the proposed
ban of all cell phone use while driving while the legislation and enforcement
at the state and local level is initially difficult to impossible. Meanwhile,
through drivers education classes, public demos, media coverage, and support
by the high schools, we hope to increase the awareness factor of using phones
when driving. "Distractions" have always been a problem when driving,
but the level of distraction when using a phone is much higher and drastically
more dangerous for vulnerable road users like bicyclists, pedestrians, highway
workers, police, service vehicle operators, EMTs, et al. A driver can usually
take his eyes and attention off the road for a few seconds to do something simple
like change a radio station or glance at a GPS unit. Try that for just four
seconds while concentrating on a text message or being involved in a
detailed phone call and see what happens. Just being engrossed in a phone call,
hand-held or hands-free, can demand so much attention that the driver will not
see what is immediately in front of him. Most people agree with these statements
and feel others should not do it, but "they are better than most"
and can multi-task so effectively the "hang-up and drive" statement
does not apply to them. Those are the people we wish to see "driving"
our new simulator for 20 minutes. A crash is just the start of a long and sad
story for the driver, not to mention the innocent person who was hit.
For more info about the Distracted Driver Simulator from Virtual Driver Interactive, please contact Dave Topham at the BWA-NH office, firstname.lastname@example.org, 603.898.9926. For an on-line overview of the VT-Touch model simulator, the "One Simple Decision" software, and other hardware and software options from VDI, please visit http://www.driverinteractive.com/osdtrailer.shtml
new Virtual Driver Interactive "VT Touch" simulator
with the "One Simple Decision" interactive software
provides a realistic experience.
December 2011 update:
The two Distracted Driver Simulators obtained by the NH Highway Safety Association in April and as supported by the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth and BWA-NH may soon have some "company." NH-HSA is reportedly planning to purchase two more units based on the excellent feedback of using the first two for six months. In addition, BWA-NH plans to obtain one with touch screen features for demos, training sessions, and promoting wider use of the simulators. Several driver education schools, bike advocacy groups, and NH-DMV have already expressed an interest. The intent is to increase awareness and stop texting, cell phone use, and impaired driving before a crash occurs. Did you know a driver just talking on a cell phone (hand-held or hands-free) is twice as impaired as someone legally drunk at the 0.8 level? And texting while driving equals four times the impairment of a drunk driver? Let's do what we can to stop the crashes caused by distracted driving, not just analyze cell phone records after a crash when someone, usually a bicyclist or pedestrian, is seriously injured or killed.
two computerized Distracted Driving Simulators as unveiled at the NH Highway
Safety Conference in April have been used in several school districts with excellent
reports. The Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow was the first in the
state to use the simulators with about 200 students taking two or more tests.
Distracted driving induced by cell phone use (talking or texting) and driving
under the influence were simulated with student comments including "I got
in an accident pretty quick. I rear-ended a car and lost my license." "I
hit a deer. Then they did a drunk test, put me in a police car and took me to
jail." This was not a game being played by the students. One commented
how he lost his brother to drunk driving.
Jim Esdon of the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center is the program manager. The units were slated for use in Sanborn and Seabrook before the end of the school year. As of June 1, over 500 students have been tested. BWA-NH will be involved in the logged results of the tests recorded by the two simulators and help maintain the units as more and more schools and organization use the machine which proves that distracted driving leads to crashes - and that no one is immune from being distracted. For more information, please contact BWA-NH at email@example.com.
September 2011 update:
When not in use,
the two Distracted Driver Simulators are stored at the Injury Prevention Center
in Lebanon or the Safety & Health Council office in Concord where BWA-NH
rents office space. A close inspection of the units by BWA-NH confirmed all
components are of the highest quality and should be serviceable for years. When
in use, the units are not to be connected to the Internet so related problems
are avoided. Statistics from the various session surveys can be exported to
a flash drive for reports and analysis on other computers. The main application
program called "One Simple Decision" covers both distracted driving
caused by cell phone use and texting plus impaired driving caused by alcohol
or drugs. The basic computers run the Windows XP Pro op system on 32 GB solid
state drives for the best reliability under adverse conditions. The Logitech
steering wheel and pedal assemblies are "first class" and provide
tactile feedback to the user. Three heavy-duty padded shipping containers hold
a complete simulator. Close-up views of the components follow.
A newer model simulator from Virtual Driver Interactive (VDI) utilizes a touch screen with the computer built into the monitor. This simplifies the cabling and requires two boxes instead of three for transportation and storage. The additional cost for the touch screen model is about $600.00.
Approximately 30 minutes should be allowed for one person to become familiar with the simulator operation then take both the distracted and impaired driving tests. A brief eight question survey captures each user's thoughts of the simulated driving and what they learned from taking the tests. In an effort to show more people how the simulator works or to have a group observe the actions and consequences of distracted and impaired driving without spending about 30 minutes "at the wheel" per person, a second port on the computer allows the video to be projected on a large screen for all to view. Feedback to date is very positive as the scenarios are realistic and compelling. The "Hang up and Drive" slogan has a lot more meaning once a person has experienced "driving" the simulator.
the VDI simulators and the "One Simple Decision" software will be
available at the NE
Bike-Walk Summit in Providence, RI on October 7, 2011. Please visit the
Virtual Driver Interactive
web site or contact BWA-NH at 603.898.9926 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for additional
information about the units. To schedule an operator training session and to
borrow the NH units for a class or presentation, contact Jim Esdon at the Injury
Prevention Center, 603.653.1137 or email James.E.Esdon@Dartmouth.edu.
VDI Distracted Driver Simulator set up at BWA-NH Concord office for testing and training.
Distracted Driver Simulator steering wheel, pedals, and transport cases.
The two new "Distracted Driving Simulators" (DDS) were first used at the Timberlane High School in Plaistow NH as part of the drivers education program. Approximately 200 students took two or more tests. Distracted driving induced by cell phone use (talking or texting) and driving under the influence were simulated with student commenting "I got in an accident pretty quick. I rear-ended a car and lost my license." "I hit a deer. Then they did a drunk test, put me in a police car and took me to jail." This was not a game being played by the students. One commented how he lost his brother to drunk driving.
Jim Esdon of the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center is the program manager. The units were slated for use in Sanborn and Seabrook before the end of the school year. As of June 1, over 500 students have been tested. BWA-NH will be involved in the logged results of the tests recorded by the two simulators and help maintain the units as more and more schools and organizations use the machines which prove that distracted driving leads to crashes - and that no one is immune from being distracted. For more information, please contact BWA-NH at 603.898.9926 or email@example.com. Feedback to date from both students and teachers has been excellent.
BWA-NH is supporting the use and maintenance of the simulators by donating two uninterruptable power supplies (UPS units) and performing file maintenance, analyzing stored reports, and performing system-level backups. This work is being done in the BWA-NH Concord office as rented from the Safety & Health Council of Northern NE where the simulators are sometimes stored between being used in the field. A lot more use of the portable units is planned for this summer while public schools are closed.
Esdon, Injury Prevention Center Program Manager at Dartmouth, shown
"driving" the simulator and boxing the components for transit during
the "Train the Trainers" session in Lebanon, NH on May 9, 2011.
May 2011 update:
Two new "Distracted Driving Simulators" (DDS) were unveiled at the NH Traffic Safety Conference in Meredith on April 26. Jim Esdon of the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth demonstrated the units and explained the plans for "training the trainers" and the actual use of the units.
The computerized and portable devices will be taken into schools and public places to allow drivers of all ages to learn for themselves that they are really not good at driving safely when playing with their cell phone. The simulators run a program called "One Simple Decision" - and it really gets the point across: simply do not talk or text when driving. Multitasking may sound like a good idea and many people feel they do it very well. Unfortunately, the statistic and deaths prove otherwise.
On May 9, a core group of safety professionals were trained on the DDS by Jim Esdon of the Injury Prevention Center in Lebanon on the set-up, use, and database logging so they can train others who will be able to borrow the units at no charge for up to a week at a time. When not in use, one unit will be stored in Lebanon at the IPC office, then second stored in Concord at the Safety and Health Council of Northern New England office where BWA-NH rents space and services. The goal is to greatly increase the awareness of NH drivers of distracted driving so they will change their habits before causing a serious crash. Bicyclists and pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users with distracted drivers being a severe risk which is increasing every year for the past decade or more. The DDS units are but one way we hope to address this serious issue.
Driving Simulator on display at NH Traffic Safety Conference,
Meredith NH, April 26, 2011
Esdon of the Injury Prevention Center at Dartmouth assembling a portable
Distracted Driving Simulator, April 26, 2011
April 2011 update:
April is the National
Distracted Driver Awareness month. A timely introduction of two Distracted Driver
Simulators for use in NH was made by the NH Highway Safety Agency and the Injury
Prevention Center at the Highway Safety Conference in Meredith on April 26.
These portable units will be used throughout the state in public places and
in classroom to convince cell phone users ("texters" in particular)
that they cannot drive safely and play with their gadgets at the same time.
August 2010 update:
Focus on Distracted
Driving continues with funding expected from the NH Highway Safety Agency to
purchase two portable computerized simulators which should help increase public
awareness of this deadly action. The Injury Prevention unit at Dartmouth is
working with BWA-NH to obtain and use the simulators. When not in use, one will
be stored in Hanover and the second at the BWA-NH Office (SHC-NNE suite) in
Concord for easy access. Funding is expected in early 2011.
May 2010 update:
BWA-NH is working
with the Dartmouth Injury Prevention Center and the NH Highway Safety Agency
to investigate the purchase of one or more distracted driving simulators which
would be shared by multiple agencies and organizations. If the proposed simulator
from Virtual Driver
Interactive is deemed practical, various sources of funding would be sought
to purchase the units. At about $10,000 each, we need to know what we would
be buying and how they would be used in NH to help reduce distracted driving.
April 2010 update:
Distracted driving continues to make headline news around the country. The US House of Representatives passed a resolution on March 23 declaring April as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Whether caused by talking or texting on cell phones or other distractions within the car when driving, the resulting crashes are taking a tremendous toll on many people with the most vulnerable road users, bicyclists and pedestrians, always faring the worst.
BWA-NH is investigating the use of a Distracted Driving Simulator which might just make a positive difference here in NH. This product focuses on behaviors and their consequences versus typical driver training simulators. Several organizations are checking out this product from Virtual Driver Interactive which could be used by various groups in different venues. Funding from multiple sources is also being explored. We should know within a few weeks if this idea will gain traction here in NH.
more information on actions being taken to combat distracted driving, please
visit the LAB
March 2010 update:
As if in response to an idea expressed by BWA-NH last month, a new driving simulator is now available to highlight the dangers of distracted driving behaviors and their consequences. Either portable or semi-stationary units can run three different programs depicting "real world" conditions encountered when driving. Two programs focus on skills for new or professional drivers. These have been available for some years and are used in driver training classes and for companies like UPS. The new "One Simple Decision" program of interest to BWA-NH aims at behaviors leading to distracted driving. Taking this unit to the public in places like a shopping mall and promoting it as a "fun experience" could attract more people than offering it strictly as a training device in a classroom setting. BWA-NH is checking into funding for the simulator and for potential use by various agencies and services in NH. For an overview of this product, visit the web site www.driverinteractive.com.
Meanwhile, distracted driving continues to make headlines and even the comics. Here is one which appeared on March 20, 2010:
"Close to Home" by John McPherson
You Tube videos and articles on distracted driving:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration video (1m 46s)
short video shows even a bicyclist in motion while using a cell phone (47s)
Part One, the "big picture" (1m 49s)
Part Two, actual driving test (3m 10s)
video shows simulated crash caused by distracted driving. (4m 45s)
Note: This video runs about five minutes and it is not pretty!
of the problem in the United States (6m
National Safety Council "white paper" on distracted driving
On October 15,
a motorist hit and nearly killed Suzanne Kibler-Hacker, a highly experienced
commuter cyclist on her way to work. The Concord Police Department closed the
investigation in December but details have not been made public. An update
appeared in the Concord Monitor on January 8, 2010.
One major question currently remains open: Was the motorist who hit Suzanne using a cell phone at time of the crash? This question was openly asked in the Concord Monitor article of October 21. If the motorist were using a cell phone in any manner (hand-held voice, Bluetooth voice, or texting) the known distraction factor would certainly be a contributing factor to the crash. Multiple nationwide studies have proven that using a cell phone while driving effectively impairs the driver to a level greater than the legal limit for a DWI conviction. That applies to simple voice calls while, for most users, texting while driving provokes a higher level of distraction thus an even greater risk to other road users, bicyclists and pedestrians in particular. Even the comic strips are getting into the action. Check out this Broom Hilda comic of January 31, 2010:
A new national
organization called FocusDriven highlights
many facts, figures, and details about crashes caused by distracted drivers.
The US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood supports the organization
and their web site www.focusdriven.org.
The National Safety Council is also behind this effort to raise awareness and
to support victims. Info about FocusDriven
was posted by Boston's WCVB Channel 5 on January 12; the
article with reader comments is available here.
Locally, we cannot do anything to make Susanne's injuries less severe or promote a faster recovery for her, but let's not have another serious crash before learning if the "distracted driver syndrome" has been investigated and what can be done to prevent future crashes caused by this issue.
Currently the new NH law banning texting while driving is viewed as a joke by many NH residents, drivers in many states, and it even made Associated Press headlines on January 2, 2010. One resident of Warner, NH stated she has no intention to stop texting while driving, despite the $100 fine she could receive. Her comment: "I'd better start saving my money."
Unfortunately, so many people believe they can multi-task so efficiently that driving a car is nothing more than a "background task" which does not require their attention 100% of the time. Tests in controlled environments such as using driving simulators with distractions like cell phone calls and texting have proven otherwise, again and again. The human brain is much like a computer in that it can seemingly process multiple tasks at the same time when actually each task is only being given a percentage of the total brain/computer power available. If, for example, 10% of a motorist's "brain power" is diverted to a cell phone call or texting when a bicyclist appears within potential crash distance, the cyclist does not stand a chance. Did this happen in Susanne's case? I don't know, but it did happen in Hampstead, NH in April 2004. GSW member Bob Weaver was nearly killed when, on a club ride, he was hit from the rear by a teenager on a straight country road in broad daylight. Upon stopping after the crash and exiting her car, the teenager's first words were (as heard by multiple GSW members on that ride), "But I wasn't even on my cell phone!" Her next action was not to call "911" but to call Mommy to say "I think I am in trouble." The investigation by local police did not take any of this into consideration or the testimony of an EMT who just happened to be driving in the opposite direction at the time and saw the crash take place. It was only after the then-existent NH Highway Patrol became involved that the teenager was found guilty of causing the crash, lost her license for months, and had to pay some stiff fines -- never mind what the insurance companies had to pay.
Bob Weaver's bike after being rear-ended by a cell-phone user
Bottom line, "distracted drivers" seem to be the biggest hazard bicyclists and motorists encounter on the roads these days. What can we do to address this issue? Personally, I'd like to see some NH people, namely those who believe they can multi-task so efficiently that the texting-while-driving ban does not apply to them, be given public tests in a driving simulator alternately using and not using a cell phone, voice and/or texting. If given some publicity via the media, maybe the reasons behind the nearly unenforceable law would make sense to the present non-believers. None of us want to be "taken out" by a distracted driver. There are certainly many ways to be distracted other than cell phone calls and texting but that appears to be a leading factor these days.
So, what can we as the NH bicycling community do about the current situation? I'm open for suggestions as are many people in the law enforcement and safety professions, but let's not wait until another cyclist is severely injured or killed before taking action. You could be the next victim.
BWA-NH/GSW Board Member & Co-Founder
LAB Certified Cycling Instructor #39