Sunday, February 22, 2009

Drivers on cell phones kill thousands / Cell phone fatal wreck / Teen crash death / Crash claims 9-year-old boy / Deadly mix / O2 plans prompt health concerns

Some results of cell phone use and electro magnetic radiation exposure are easy to see -

Martin Weatherall



Drivers on cell phones kill thousands
By Gareth Powell
February 22, 2009

Drivers on cell phones kill thousands

Cell phone distraction cause at the minimum 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year, according to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

'If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, their reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver who is not using a cell phone,' said University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer. 'It's like instantly aging a large number of drivers.'

Drivers talking on cell phones were 18 percent slower to react to brake lights, the new study found. In a minor bright note, they also kept a 12 percent greater following distance. But they also took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked. 'That frustrates everyone.'

"Once drivers on cell phones hit the brakes, it takes them longer to get back into the normal flow of traffic," David Strayer said. "The net result is they are impeding the overall flow of traffic."

The scientists also found previously that chatty motorists are less adept than drunken drivers with blood alcohol levels exceeding 0.08.

Separate research last year at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign supported the conclusion that hands-free cell phone use causes driver distraction.

The latest study used high-tech simulators. It included people aged 18 to 25 and another group aged 65 to 74. The simulations uncovered a twofold increase in the number of rear-end collisions by drivers using cell phones.

Telephone numbers presented by automated voice systems compete for drivers' attention to a far greater extent than when the driver sees the same information presented on a display.

Interruptions to driving, such as answering a call, are likely to be more dangerous if they occur during maneuvers like merging to exit a freeway.

Things could get worse. Wireless Internet, speech recognition systems and e-mail could all be even more distracting.

Several readers wrote to LiveScience questioning whether cell phones were really so bad for drivers.

Here is some additional information that helps illuminate the death statistic.

The estimates of annual deaths reported may well be very low.

The number, for U.S. deaths related to drivers using cell phones, comes from a 2002 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA). Researchers then estimated that the use of cell phones by drivers caused approximately 2,600 deaths.

Because data on cell phone use by motorists are limited, the range of uncertainty is wide, those researchers said. The estimate of fatalities in that HCRA report ranged between 800 and 8,000.

Importantly, the researchers noted (in 2002) that increasing cell phone use could be expected to cause the annual death estimate to rise. The 2002 estimate, for example, was up from an estimate of 1,000 deaths in the year 2000. Logic suggests the number — though just an estimate — could be much higher in 2008.

In 2001 in California, for example, 'at least 4,699 reported accidents were blamed on drivers using cell phones, and those crashes killed 31 people and injured 2,786,' according to an analysis by The Los Angeles Times.

That number can expected to be low, because of the lack of formal procedures for noting cell phone use as a cause of a traffic accident.

The Times also noted a 1997 study of Canadian drivers 'who agreed to have their cell phone records scrutinized found that the risk of an accident was four times greater while a driver was using the phone.'



DPS official confirms cell phone use contributed to fatal wreck on I-35 south of Hewitt

By Regina Dennis | Monday, January 26, 2009, 02:08 PM

A 49-year-old Waco woman who died in an accident Sunday afternoon on Interstate 35 South had been using her cell phone when the incident occurred.

Gabriele Zarecor was driving a 2001 Ford pickup on the inside lane of the interstate near the Hewitt-Moody exit and lost control of her vehicle at 12:24 p.m., according to officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety. Zarecor's truck veered right and struck a concrete barrier, ejecting her from the vehicle, officials said.

State Trooper Chad Buenger, who responded to the scene, said witnesses stated that Zarecor appeared to be text messaging on her cell phone during the accident.

The pickup was the only vehicle involved in the accident and there were no other injuries. Zarecor was not wearing her seat belt, officials said.


Last updated: February 11, 2009 9:34 a.m.

Teen crash death spurs campaign

Parkview's 'Don't Text & Drive' initiative touches Homestead
Jeff Wiehe
The Journal Gazette

They gather around the jersey before every game, their arms slung around their shoulders while a No. 10 lies on the floor before them.

It's become part of the ritual for the Homestead High School boys basketball team this year. So has keeping the jersey on the bench, a place where it can be left undisturbed and seen through four quarters by everyone on the floor and in the stands.

"We want to save a spot for him," senior player Chris Ray said. "We dedicated the season to him."

When they huddle around that jersey, the one worn by former teammate Rodney O. Thompson, it's really their former teammate they're rallying around. And when that jersey sits on the bench, it's the classmate who died in a car accident when he tried to text and drive at the same time that the crowd is remembering.

And during a year when many Homestead students have had to deal with harsh lessons of loss while on the cusp of adulthood, Ray said the crowds at games sound louder, the team is playing better and everyone seems together.

Tuesday, Ray and his teammates and more than 100 other area high school students were at Glenbrook Square to see Parkview Hospital unveil a "Don't Text & Drive" campaign that was a result of Thompson's crash.

Thompson, 18, was killed when he wrapped his car around a utility pole on Dicke Road in October.

A 15-year-old girl riding with Thompson said he was using his cell phone to text when he lost control of the car and swerved into the way of an SUV before going off the road, according to Allen County Coroner Dr. E. Jon Brandenberger.

"It's doesn't take a scientist to know this is dangerous," Brandenberger said about texting and driving. He said texting impairs drivers seriously enough to make it appear as if they're drunk.

Brandenberger cited statistics from a few years ago that showed 5,000 teenagers dying nationwide in car crashes annually and 400,000 more receiving serious injuries. The most common causes for teen crashes, he said, are distractions.

"Don't Text & Drive" signs have already appeared at Memorial Coliseum and on the doors of Glenbrook Square. Billboards and more signs are set to follow.

Lisa Hollister, a nurse and head of Parkview's trauma services, said it's not a message just for teens. Adults are texting and driving as well, she said.

In fact, Hollister said, they probably aren't as good at it, since for many, it's a less familiar technology and causes even greater distraction.

Thompson's mother, Diveeta Thompson, conceded she had done the same as her son when she worked in sales. Now, she says, she sometimes has trouble buying the foods at the grocery store her son used to eat.

She pleaded with the teens on hand Tuesday to be careful, to not waste five seconds on something meaningless that could turn into a nightmare.

It's a message not lost on Homestead students, who still grieve a classmate who by all accounts transcended the stereotypical high school cliques that so often form.

No matter what circle you traveled in – from the jocks to the preppies to the geeks – you probably had good dealings with Thompson, according to his classmates.

"I never thought this would happen to somebody I was so close to," said Derek Kinzer, his friend and classmate. "We always got together after school, and he was so hilarious. He kept everybody relaxed and having fun."

Kinzer found out about Thompson's death while at a baseball tournament in Evansville.

He received "tons" of texts from friends, some that simply said, "Rodney's dead."

With no one there to share his feelings, he had his father drive him home immediately.

The Monday after the crash, a change came over the 2,000-plus-student school, some said.

"It allowed a lot of togetherness at school. Everybody got a lot closer," Kinzer said.

Still, the next week of classes were hard for Kinzer, a budding artist. He found himself drawing with Thompson on his mind constantly. During a composition class, he sketched out a basketball backboard with angel wings, a halo and Thompson's initials.

A friend saw it, and shortly thereafter it became the back of a T-shirt. With the school helping keep the costs down, students snapped up the shirts for about $5 apiece, Kinzer said.

They wore them to basketball games, and the student section was re-christened "Rod's Sillies" in homage to their classmate.

"Last year, they were pretty lackluster," Ray said of the fans. "This year, they've made a commitment to cheer us and honor Rodney."

The team has responded with a 10-5 record going into Thursday's game against conference opponent Norwell. If all goes right, they might be playing for a Northeast Hoosier Conference championship Saturday against Carroll.

Ray called the team "leaps and bounds" better, partly because that crowd is there to help them raise the team's game when it needs to.

Partly, though, it's because a school that had lost its footing found it again in one another.

"It is a huge school, but after the wreck, you could feel a different vibe," Ray said. "We just want to stick together and remember him."


Crash near Branson claims 9-year-old boy

The state patrol says the driver was distracted by a cell phone.

BRANSON - The state patrol says a driver reaching for a cell phone and driving at excessive speed allegedly caused an accident that led to the death of his 9-year-old son Sunday in a single-vehicle crash north of town.

The name of the victim was not released Sunday. The Colorado State Patrol identified the driver as Michael Richardson, 40, of Branson in Las Animas County.

According to the patrol, the crash occurred at about 7:45 a.m. on Colorado 389 about 6 miles north of Branson.

Richardson's 1999 Chevrolet Suburban was northbound on Colorado 389 when he became distracted while reaching for his phone. The vehicle ran off the right side of the road and struck a delineator post before steering back onto the roadway.

The vehicle continued out of control and ran off the left side of the road where it rolled, then came to rest off the road on its wheels. According to the patrol, the vehicle also was occupied by two more of the driver's sons, an 8-year-old and a 14-year-old.

CPR efforts performed on the 9-year-old at the scene were unsuccessful. He died at the scene, the state patrol reported.

The other children sustained serious injuries including a broken ankle and femur, and were taken to a nearby hospital.

The patrol reported that all occupants appeared to be wearing their seat belts except the 9-year-old.

Pending further investigation, involvement of alcohol and drugs are not suspected.



Editorials : Cell phones, driving can be a deadly mix

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cell phones, driving can be a deadly mix

The Issue: Officials at the National Safety Council, citing more than 50 studies, call for a prohibition on using a cell phone while driving.

Our Opinion: There is no doubt about it, when a driver is talking on the phone, his mind is not on driving, increasing the chance of an accident.

By now the debate should have ended. There is overwhelming evidence — empirical and anecdotal — that cell phones present a clear distraction to drivers and increase the likelihood they will be involved in an accident.

Yet the vast majority of states — Pennsylvania among them — have no laws restricting the use of such devices when behind the wheel.

Officials from the National Safety Council want to change that, and it is about time.

Janet Froetscher, president and chief executive officer of the council, pointed to a study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis that estimated 6 percent of vehicle crashes causing about 2,600 deaths a year can be linked to one or more of the drivers involved using a cell phone.

The Harvard study was one of more than 50 that reached similar conclusions. Despite that, some people insist that talking on a cell phone while driving is perfectly safe.

John Walls, vice president of CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for the cell phone industry, went so far as to say there are many instances where the ability to make a phone call while driving helps protect safety.

The folks on "Mythbusters," the Discovery Channel show that puts urban myths to the test in an entertaining and convincing way, would disagree.

Members of the cast got better results while driving a test course with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent than they did while driving sober and talking on a cell phone.

And it doesn't seem to matter whether drivers are using a hand-held cell phone or a hand-free phone.

"It's not just what you're doing with your hands," Froetscher said. "It's that your head is in the conversation and so your eyes are not on the road."

In a study done at the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, a team of neuroscientists determined that simply listening to a cell phone can cause a driver to make the same kind of errors he would make if he were drunk.

The study found that brain activity associated with driving was reduced by 37 percent during cell phone conversations, according to Dr. Marcel Just, the leader of the team.

"Drivers need to keep not only their hands on the wheel; they also have to keep their brains on the road," Just said.

Using a driving simulator and a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, the scientists tested 29 volunteers as they drove along a winding road, first undisturbed and then while listening to statements over a cell phone. As the volunteers concentrated on the statements, the number of times they wandered into the opposing lane, drifted onto the shoulder or hit a guardrail increased dramatically. The volunteers fared only marginally better with hands-free cell phones.

Last year a pair of bills were introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature that would have restricted the use of cell phones while driving. They died without consideration.

But this is a problem that shouldn't be ignored. In 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported 1,241 crashes involving drivers using cell phones. The practice should be prohibited.

And then there are those people who try to send text messages while driving. What are they doing, using their elbows to control the steering wheel? Anyone who tries to do that should be charged with a felony: criminal stupidity.


O2 plans prompt health concerns

Residents are dismayed by news that mobile phone company 02 plans to put more antennae masts on top of Ludlow's former telephone exchange.

The Bishop Mascall Centre is across the road from the Ludlow automatic telephone exchange (ATE) and its director Moira Gibbs said she was deeply concerned by the proposal.

"The problem is that it cannot be proved there is no danger to health," she said. "There have been reports of cancer clusters near these masts. This is an area with a high population density and many children."

A letter to Moira from Derby planning consultants Ian Hewitt Associates, acting for 02 UK Ltd, says the location has been chosen because it is "a long established telecommunication facility serving Ludlow".

The letter, which has not gone to local residents, adds that comments on the proposal are invited so that views can be taken into account before a planning application to South Shropshire District Council.

Alastair Hoddart, of nearby Springfield Close, said he had read the letter and wished to bring its contents to the attention of his neighbours.

"We are on a line with the roof of the building and the signals coming from this mast," he said.

"There is a school nearby and young people at the Bishop Mascall. We are concerned for the children's health. I just can't understand why they don't put these masts in the countryside – it's not a visual problem.

"I shall now be taking this letter to all my neighbours," he added.

02 community relations manager Angela Johnson said: "This proposal is an upgrade to ensure the residents of Ludlow have good mobile communications both now and in the future.

"Mobile phone masts are very low powered radio transmitters and, as such, have to be close to where people want to use their phones.

"The World Health Organisation and the Health Protection Agency say there is no health risk as all the masts have to comply with the international safety standard.

"I am more than happy to meet with local residents if the local councillors would like to get in touch with me."

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