Texting while stopped can be as dangerous as while driving

Many Chicago drivers see the state law against texting while at a stoplight as a nuisance and ignore it. Doing so can get you fined anywhere from $90 up to $500. Aside from the financial cost, what harm can it do to send a quick text while you’re waiting for a light to change? It can do plenty, according to experts.

It is all part of the distracted driving culture that’s causing accidents throughout the country – many fatal. According to police, when people don’t see a light change until it is too late, they sometimes make a last-minute, and sometimes failed, attempt to get through it before it turns red, causing a car accident.

Chicago, like cities nationwide, has “smart” signals with traffic detectors under the road. The signals change based on the traffic flow. If someone doesn’t move forward when the light changes, it will not remain green. Therefore, if the driver doesn’t act recklessly and try to make it through the intersection, he or she will sit through another red light and so will everyone behind that driver. This increases the chances for road rage incidents and speeding to make up for lost time – potentially leading to deadly consequences.

In a study at Purdue University, researchers found another potentially deadly problem. Drivers who were texting while stopped in left-turn lanes sometimes saw drivers moving forward on their right in their peripheral vision, and assumed that the turn arrow light had also changed when it hadn’t, causing them to pull into oncoming traffic.

While there is little empirical data on the number of accidents caused by drivers who were texting while stopped, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, nearly 6,000 crashes in Illinois from 2008 to 2012 involved the driver using a cellphone. These resulted in over 2,500 injuries and 30 deaths. Even IDOT admits that these numbers are probably lower than the actual figures because they include only accidents where officers documented cellphone use in their reports.

As one IDOT official noted, drivers are operating a motor vehicle even when they are stopped, and that operation requires their complete focus. Drivers who cause an accident because they are distracted by anything that is taking their mind off their driving need to be held accountable, both criminally and civilly, for the harm and damage caused by their actions.

Source: The Chicago Tribune, “Texting at stoplight an accident waiting to happen” Jon Hilkevitch and Lauren Zumbach, Nov. 14, 2013

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Texting while stopped can be as dangerous as while driving