Car plus distraction equals more crashes

Mandi Noyes

Students discuss popular driving distractions

Credit: Beth Rankin

Between adjusting the radio, looking out the window, talking on cell phones and listening to music loudly, people tend to forget they are driving, said Lt. Michelle Lee of the Kent Police Department.

Freshman psychology major Ashley Lautzenheiser was driving to see a friend in Conneaut during Christmas break last semester and was unfamiliar with the road signs. She said she should have been watching the road, but she was listening to “Groovin’ Tonight” by Brian McKnight instead.

“I ended up sliding off the road and getting stuck,” Lautzenheiser said. “I needed assistance to get my car out of the snow — all because I was paying too much attention to the song.”Between 4,000 and 8,000 drivers have crashed their cars because they were distracted, according to the American Automobile Association. In a year, distractions contribute to as many as 50 percent of the 6 million U.S. crashes reported annually. Traffic crashes are the No. 1 cause of death and injury for people ages 15 to 20. Kent police responded to 966 traffic accidents in 2004, with three being fatal.

Bobby Porrello, sophomore business administration major, has been in five accidents since getting his license at 16, one from crashing into a fire hydrant because he was not paying attention to the road — he was changing a CD. The bulk of accidents increased his car insurance so much, he couldn’t pay it. So he doesn’t drive.

Lee said many people think driving is a good time to multi-task. Time is essential, she said. Because schedules are hectic, many think more than one task needs to be performed. Unfortunately, many people find themselves performing two or three things behind the wheel, she said.

There is a separation between men and women when it comes to distractions while driving, Lee said. A problem with the guys is trying to “look cool.”

“I have found that guys tend to drive fast, recklessly and carelessly,” Lee said. “This definitely plays a factor into accidents.”

Lee said she hardly ever sees girls with cars that are “suped up,” such as with a high-tech stereo. Blaring music and having a loud bass causes accidents, Lee said.

Sophomore business major Phil Geyer agrees.

He said he was driving with the radio so loud he couldn’t hear an ambulance siren and went through a green light.

“I kept passing people who were slowing down,” Geyer said. “The ambulance was two feet away from side-swiping me — all because I couldn’t hear the siren because I had my music too loud.”

A distraction for women is applying makeup and grooming themselves, Lee said, and she also said she has seen more girls singing along to the radio than guys.

Smoking tends to be a distraction for many, Lee said. Using the ashtray, flicking it out the window and dropping it are all ways the driver can become distracted.

Jim Owens, an instructor in the Justice Studies department and a former Kent policeman, said when it comes to driving, students are more carefree than adults, and this may be a reason they get into accidents.

Most students are at their “home away from home” when they stay at the university, and they tend to kick back and let loose, Owens said. At home, they’re under parental supervision and have more caution when it comes to driving, and a university-setting tends to make students more reckless.

“Younger people are less experienced when it comes to driving and are easily distracted more than adults,” Lee said. “Usually, the car isn’t in their name either, so they do not have as much concern for driving.”

More accidents tend to occur in good weather, Lee said. When the weather is nice and the sun is shining, people tend to drive more carelessly and be less concerned with their driving. People end up driving faster and multi-tasking more.

Cell phone use is a big problem, Lee said. There is no ordinance in Kent prohibiting using cell phones while driving, but other cities have taken the initiative.

Ohio currently has a partial ordinance — Cleveland is discussing a ban while Brooklyn, Ohio, has one. The state of New York has had a ban since November 2001. A ban was proposed by Indiana State Sen. Rose Antich-Carr in 2004. School bus drivers are banned from using cell phones on the job in Chicago.

Lee suggested using an ear piece if possible so drivers can place both hands on the wheel and can pay more attention on the road.

But even with an earpiece, drivers can be more into the conversation than driving, Porrello said.

Not all distractions can be avoided, but they can be just as serious. Lee said she encountered an “interesting” distraction when she witnessed a car full of guys pulling out of Taco Bell. The car was swerving all over the road. She pulled the car over after following them for some time and asked why they were swerving.

“A passenger in the seat farted, and the driver was sticking his head out the window to get fresh air,” Lee said.

Contact news correspondent Mandi Noyes at [email protected].