Beware, the other driver is likely on the phone

ATLANTA — Drivers beware: As many as 53 percent of the people on the road say they used a cell phone while behind the wheel.

That’s according to the AAA Foundation’s 2008 Traffic Safety Culture Index. Furthermore, more than 14 percent of drivers said they send text messages.

Just a couple of statistics to keep in mind on the next road trip.

“Now that cell phone users can access not only safety features but also convenient services like weather reports, the lowest priced gas, turn-by-turn directions, nearby hotels and restaurants, and even movie times while traveling home for the holidays it is important that everyone be responsible when they are behind the wheel,” Belinda Dabrowski, managing director of member benefits for AAA Auto Club South, said in a news release.

As many as 11 percent of all drivers at any given moment during the day are using a cell phone, either a hand-held phone or a hands-free device, AAA said, citing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. AAA points to studies that show using a cell phone while driving quadruples the likelihood of a wreck since it, in part, interferes with a driver’s reaction time.

“Too many Americans are driving with the false sense of security that hands-free devices are somehow safer, which could be a deadly mistake,” AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger said in a news release. “Evidence shows that using a hands-free phone while driving impairs your reaction time to critical events and increases your crash risk about the same as if you were using a hand-held phone. Drivers need to be aware of the dangers of distracted driving and pay full attention while they are behind the wheel.”

In 2007, there were more than 255 million Americans who were wireless telephone subscribers.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced some good news: There have been fewer deaths on the nation’s roads during the first 10 months of the year compared to a year ago. DOT’s initial estimates indicate 31,110 people died from January through October compared to 34,502 in 2007. Also, for the first nine months of the year, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicles miles traveled was 1.28, down from a 1.37 rate for 2007.

“For the second year in a row we are seeing historic lows in deaths on our nation’s roads,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said in a news release. “While we are encouraged by these declines, our work is not nearly complete in making our safe transportation network even safer.”

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