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Distraction, drinking among causes for high traffic death toll

Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

Rebekah Scheinfeld, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, said while cellphone use by walkers may be a factor in some fatal crashes, the bigger issue is driver behavior.

A pedestrian "using their cellphone does not pose the same risk as someone driving and looking at their cellphone," Scheinfeld said.

Mike Amsden, an assistant director of planning with the department, noted that most pedestrian deaths happen when the pedestrian is doing something legal, like crossing the street. Eighteen of last year's pedestrian deaths were hit-and-runs.

Patrick Salvi, a lawyer whose firm, Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard specializes in traffic-related deaths and injuries, said he often sees cases where pedestrians were not obeying the rules of the road.

"They've got to stay visible, avoid distractions and avoid using alcohol," Salvi said.

Knowing the risk of using technology like mobile phones and GPS does not keep drivers from doing it, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 U.S. drivers by Esurance Insurance Services. While 91 percent of surveyed drivers believe that texting while driving is distracting, more than half admit to doing it anyway, because they're busy or bored.

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Three out of 10 of those surveyed know someone who has experienced a distracted driving crash or close call, and 1 out of 10 have experienced a crash or close call personally, the survey found.

Kolosh said the distracted driving trend seems to be "evolving" with more advanced technology, but that does not mean things are getting better. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies see a decrease in the percentage of drivers observed using their cellphones, Kolosh said.

However, hands-free technology has been found to be just as distracting and "cognitively taxing" as using your hands to operate a phone, Kolosh said.

"There is no safe way to interact and do multitasking behind the wheel," Kolosh said.


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