Ever had a close call with a boneheaded driver who is toying with their cell phone?
You’re not alone.
“I have cars pass the center line coming toward me every day. You can see them looking down and then jerk the steering wheel back at the last minute,” said Dave Munyan.
He’s one of many people who shared their thoughts about distracted driving with us this past week on Facebook. Most concerns focused on those who send or read messages while behind the wheel.
“Texting and driving are dangerous… I know people who have gotten seriously hurt,” wrote Becky Marshall.
And from Curtis Bolt: “As a commercial driver, I see it all too often. It’s not hard to mistake them for drunk drivers.”
The stretch between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the most dangerous of the year, especially for teen drivers. They are three times more likely than adults to be involved in a deadly crash during the summer months.
But teenagers aren’t the only ones making the roads riskier.
The number of all drivers who report using a cell phone behind the wheel has jumped tremendously in the past five years, according to a survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) reported recently talking on a hand-held phone while driving and nearly 35 percent admitted to sending a text or email.
That’s led to a great deal of fear among those who share the roads. Distracted driving is now the top worry on the road, according to the AAA data — it surpasses drivers’ fears about other dangers such as aggressive, drunk, and drugged driving.
Nearly 58 percent of drivers say talking on a cell phone behind the wheel is a very serious threat to their personal safety, while 78 percent believe that texting is a significant danger.
Or as Toni Campana Davis told us: “It’s dangerous. What is so important that it can’t wait until you get to your destination or you find a place to pull over?”
We reached out to Lorain County Public Health for information about local crashes. Spokeswoman Katie Bevan told us that 389 traffic incidents here in 2016 involved a distracted driver and three lives were lost that year.
Distracted driving is a problem beyond just texting and driving, said Kat Solove, health educator at LCPH and coordinator of the Lorain County Safe Community Coalition.
“Anything a driver does in addition to driving while behind the wheel increases their risk for a crash,” she said. “Eating, reading, changing the music, putting on makeup, checking social media, texting, and phone calls are all distractions.”
But while car radios have been around for decades, the rise of smart phones has put digital devices in the public spotlight.
AAA also says drivers talking on a cell phone are up to four times as likely to crash while those who text are up to eight times as likely to be involved in a crash.
So it’s no surprise that more cities are starting to take steps.
For example, Avon city council made texting while driving a primary offense in mid-June as a response to rush hour crashes where cell phones were in play. Now you don’t have to be pulled over first for speeding or some other violation — Avon police can ticket you solely for emailing, looking at social media, playing games, or surfing the Web.
Charges there could net you a $150 ticket and two points on your driver’s license.
On our side of the county, texting while driving charges are actually rare, said Oberlin Municipal Court judge Thomas Januzzi.
We looked over the statute together and found it’s still legal to use your phone to dial a call, use a navigation app, or use voice commands (such as telling Siri or Google to play music or even send a text that you dictate) — as long as you’re an adult.
In Ohio, teens are bound by much tighter rules and can’t use any wireless communication device while behind the wheel. The only exception is placing an emergency call to law enforcement, a health care provider, or firefighters.
Januzzi said Ohio law requires your “full time and attention” while driving, so regardless of age you could face charges if you’re using your cell phone legally but it causes a crash or other violation.
The judge said he’s personally seen drivers absorbed with their phones at stoplights or while moving. Like LCPH, he contends that texting is far from the only activity that could prove dangerous.
“People use their phones for so much more than texting,” said Januzzi. “You’re looking at maps. You’re fumbling with it. The voice goes away and all of a sudden you have to look down… who knows, maybe there’s a trivia contest on the radio and you want to give the answer, so you’re looking it up on Google.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.