The driver of a semi-truck hauling two trailers was distracted by his cellphone and ran his rig off a metro highway this morning causing a massive rush-hour traffic snarl, authorities said.

The driver, Aaron Dixon, 42, of Lakewood, was not seriously injured but was taken to Rose Medical Center by ambulance as a precaution, said Trooper David Hall of the Colorado State Patrol.

The crash happened about 5 a.m. on eastbound Interstate 76 near East 88th Avenue, Hall said.

Dixon was hauling a double trailer with the rear trailer empty and the lead trailer full of assorted goods including low-level radiation medical supplies, Hall said.

Dixon was "distracted" by his cellphone and ran the truck off the right side of the highway, striking a guardrail, Hall said. Debris from the guard rail hit an SUV, a sedan and a second semi-truck, causing secondary accidents.

None of those drivers was injured.

After striking the guardrail, the double trailer rolled on to its side and slid into a metallic pole supporting a highway sign. The double trailer wrapped around the pole.

Drivers using cellphones on the highway create perilous situations, Hall said.

"Cellphones and driving don't mix, this could have been a multi-fatality accident," Hall said. "It could have been a lot worse."

The accident remains under investigation and charges against the driver are likely, Hall said.

Traffic on I-76 was backed up for miles as the eastbound section of the highway was down to one lane.

As of 11:45 a.m., the Colorado Department of Transportation had reopened two lanes eastbound but said backups and delays persist.

Kieran Nicholson: 303-954-1822 or


safe way to phone and drive


December 9, 2008

Not even cell phones with hands-free technology are good for drivers to use behind the wheel.

Tell that to American drivers.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said research increasingly shows that the act of talking on a cell phone, no matter the technology, is inherently distracting and dangerous. Yet the foundation said a recent study found that two-thirds of drivers who use cell phones behind the wheel believe it's safer if they use hands-free devices instead of holding a phone in their hands.

"Too many Americans are driving with the false sense of security that hands-free devices are somehow safer, which could be a deadly mistake," said Peter Kissinger, the foundation's president and CEO, in a release about the study. "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."

Cell phone use by drivers is a pervasive issue that isn't going away soon, even though it poses a four-fold increase in risk of crashes, the foundation said.

More than 50% of motorists in AAA's studies say they use cell phones while driving, with about 17% admitting to regular use. AAA said that about 60% of regular users do so with hand-held phones and about 34% with hands-free devices.

More than 14% admitted to having sent a text message while driving, AAA said – a habit largely driven by drivers in the 18-24 age group, among whom half admit to occasional texting while driving, compared to less than 5% among drivers 45 and older.

The AAA foundation said it hopes its studies and other research encourage tougher laws across the country, particularly for younger drivers whose inexperience and overconfidence make them even more risky drivers when distracting technologies are thrown into the mix.

Studies increasingly conclude that no matter the form, cell phone conversations are highly distracting. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found drivers on cell phones have reduced activity in the area of the brain associated with driving skills. A University of Utah study found that even with hands-free phones, subjects on a cell phone while driving had poorer reaction times than those considered legally drunk.


For drivers, text messaging is becoming most dangerous distraction

Monday, December 8, 2008 5:42 p.m. CST

The visual survey of drivers who were texting on their cell phones while driving was conducted near the intersection of Locust Street and Providence Road. An earlier version of this story had an incorrect location.

COLUMBIA — Stand at the corner of any busy intersection in Columbia and watch the drivers. You'll see that texting on cell phones is driving us to distraction.

The problem has lawmakers racing to pass legislation faster than teens typing on a keypad.

Missouri Rep. Joe Smith, R.-St. Charles, pre-filed a bill earlier this month that would create the state's first restrictions on cell phone use while driving, unless the phone is equipped with a hands-free device.

The bill would ban cell phone use in a motor vehicle on public property. It would apply to all publicly maintained roads, streets and highways.

The bill, which Smith said he has introduced the past three years in a row, includes a ban on text messaging behind the wheel. If passed, it would take effect in August.

According to research by a British transportation agency, texting is more dangerous than simply talking on the phone in a car. It is even more hazardous than drinking and driving.

The Missourian conducted an informal study of texting and driving at the intersection of Providence Road and Locust Street* from 4 to 5 p.m. on three consecutive Mondays.

An average of 46 drivers could be seen texting during an hour when about 900 cars passed through the intersection. Texters included pizza deliverymen, drivers with children in their cars and a truck driver for Target.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol doesn't provide statistics on accidents caused by cell phone use, but Smith said he knows these accidents have occurred.

Looking away from the wheel while texting is an obvious driving danger, said Sgt. Shelley Jones, head of the traffic unit for the Columbia Police Department. But it's hard to determine if texting has contributed to any accidents. Asking drivers isn't always effective because "people lie," Jones said.

Jones said she has observed drivers distracted by cell phone use. "Text messaging is more of a danger than talking (on the phone), and some people even take both hands off the wheel," she said.

While restrictions on cell phone use in cars have been proposed or enacted in 40 states, many states are still deciding how to incorporate texting into pieces of legislation.

In May 2007, Washington became the first state to ban texting and driving, and six others have followed, including California, where a train engineer's inattention to a signal while texting was cited in the crash of a commuter train that killed 25.

This fall, the Transport Research Laboratory, based in the U.K., conducted an in-depth study of text messaging while driving for the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, a research branch of the Royal Automobile Club. Participants between the ages of 17 to 25 were tested on reaction times, car-following ability, lane control and driver speed using a standard cell phone keypad.

The research determined that:

  • Reaction times were 35 percent slower when writing a text message, which is slower than the alcohol consumption reaction time of 12 percent.
  • The increased stopping distance of a distracted texter over one mile is 12.5 meters, which is about three car lengths.
  • Lane control is also severely impaired.

According to the study, participants said they believe texting should be illegal and that it definitely impacts their driving.

Jamie Arndt, an MU social psychology professor, cites two reasons people engage in behavior they know is dangerous.

First, there's the attitude of "it won't happen to me," he said. "They think the danger and accidents will happen, but they themselves are immune."

Priorities also affect decision making, particularly when connecting with friends and family may be a top concern.

"Those are powerful things that take priority of assessing proper risk management," he said.

Sabeena Khosla, a junior at MU, admits she texts regularly while behind the wheel — probably two or three times every time she drives. But if she needs to have a conversation, she'll call.

She says she knows texting is distracting.

"I've been surprised when I'm texting and focusing on the message, and I look up and realize I haven't been paying attention and could have missed something," she said.

That's the trouble, said Smith, who sponsored the Missouri bill to restrict cell phone use.

"When on the phone, people switch lanes without looking and are more distracted than they should be," he said. "My main motivation behind the bill is the safety of individuals behind the wheel, protecting people."


Study Says Hands-Free Headsets Not Any Safer; Drivers Surprised

Friday, December 19, 2008 – updated: 6:24 pm MST December 19, 2008

A study from AAA indicates that talking on headsets while in the car does not significantly increase safety levels compared to holding a cell phone to talk.

Many drivers have been taught that it is significantly safer to use a hands-free headset in order to talk on the phone while driving, but that may not be true.

Lee Zimmerman co-owns a local plumbing company and drives around to many different work sites.

"I'm basically the field supervisor, and I drive all over the city everyday," Zimmerman said.

While Zimmerman drives, he often makes calls to his employees and clients, but in order to do that safely he uses a hands-free headset.

"It is kind of nice to be able to drive and have both of your hands available to do whatever you need to do, and you can kind of stay more focused that way, at least it seems that way," Zimmerman said.

It may seem that way, but a recent study from AAA disagrees. The study indicates that 11 percent of drivers are talking on their phone at any given time, but whether they are holding their phone or using a hands-free device, the study found there was no difference in safety levels.

Learning of the study's results has drivers who use them surprised.

"It's surprising, I think it's harder to use a cell without a [headset]," Linda Kolstad said.

However researchers say the danger does not come from keeping your hands on the wheel, it comes from being distracted by the calls and conversations.

Kolstad believes that paying attention while talking is a personal responsibility.

"You still have to choose to focus and concentrate first on your driving and [talking] is second," Kolstad said.

For heavy drivers like Zimmerman, he'll continue to use his headset to keep his hands free.

"It's one less distraction for you while you are driving, it works," Zimmerman said.

However the study indicates the distraction is the talking, and doing so quadruples a driver's chances of getting into a car accident.