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  • Last modified 145 days ago (Dec. 1, 2016)

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Distracted is dangerous

Readers are what every newspaper craves, but thoughtful readers who can set us straight when we veer off course are even better.

Marion physician Don Hodson is such a reader, politely but firmly taking us to task in a note he sent about our article titled “Hands-free communication makes driving safer” in last week’s paper. It doesn’t, he said, and a quick research review prompted by his note backs that up.

Using lazy logic, taking phones out of the hands of drivers would seem to be safer than driving one-handed while talking, and a whole lot safer than one-handed texting. After all, Siri is our friend and wants to help.

But it turns out that it’s not the physical manipulation of cell phones that’s the problem; it’s the distraction of communicating with someone who’s not in the car with you. One study we looked at found a fourfold increase in accident rates among those who used cell phones while driving, and hands-free had the same increased risk as hands-on.

You’re against drunk driving, right? You may want to quit using your smartphone when you’re behind the wheel. One study showed cell phone conversations could cause attention impairments as dangerous as those of intoxicated drivers; another small study found reaction times of driving texters were about twice as slow as those of drunk drivers. Distracted driving, it appears, is impaired driving.

Hillsboro Ford sales manager Terry Hagen reinforced the problem of driver distraction in his comments for the article, and if we’d have followed his lead, our headline might have read “Hands-on or hands-free, distraction is foe of driver safety.”

As Hagen noted, there are pros and cons to having hands-free communication systems in cars, although the pros would seem more weighted to passengers than to drivers after what we saw.

Nevertheless, for now, hands-free communication is standard equipment in many vehicles, optional in others.

In 2015, the National Highway Safety Transporation Board estimated that nearly a million drivers at any given daylight moment are using cell phones, either hands-on or hands-free, to communicate.

Think of that. That’s not a million people a day, that’s millions per day. A million drivers on their phones at the moment school buses are dropping off kids in the morning, and a different million that afternoon when they’re going home. A million drivers or more talking to someone somewhere, attention divided, when you and your family are on the road to celebrate the holidays with relatives.

“You still have to rely on your own judgment, be aware of your surroundings, and pay attention to the road,” Hagen said, and we couldn’t agree more.

For safe driving, it takes more than keeping your eyes on the road. It’s where your mind needs to be as well.

— David colburn

Last modified Dec. 1, 2016

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