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Distracted driving is becoming more and more serious

Posted by Craig Penrod | Jan 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has declared that April 2014 is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. NHTSA has reported that 3,328 persons were killed nationwide due to  distracted driving crashes in 2012.

In Tempe, Phoenix or other communities in Maricopa County, it is important that you consult experienced Arizona criminal and DUI lawyers like those associated with the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod, P.C.

According to NHTSA, distracted driving is becoming a dangerous epidemic on America's roadways. Research shows that high visibility enforcement works because, with many distracted drivers, the fear of a citation and significant fine outweighs their fear of being injured or killed in a crash. Currently, it is not illegal in the state of Arizona to text while driving a motor vehicle. The state's two major cities do have ordinances banning texting while driving.

But, Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled that if you do text while driving and you are involved in an accident, what you're fingers were doing at the time of the accident can be used in at a trial against you. Besides facing the charge of second degree murder, the defendant in a 2011 crash in the city of Flagstaff was also charged with failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving death or personal injuries, underage consumption of liquor, criminal damage and two counts of driving under the influence.

Before the trial, prosecutors asked the trial court to admit two text messages into evidence, arguing that the messages were intrinsic to the charged acts and demonstrated that the defendant was angry and distracted at the time of the collision. The trial jury convicted the defendant of manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under the extreme influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of an accident, underage consumption of alcohol and criminal damage. He was sentenced to a total of 22.5 years in prison.

In a unanimous ruling, the court of appeals ruled in late 2013 that the trial jurors were entitled to know that the defendant had sent an angry text to his girlfriend within a minute of the crash. The court ruled that the timing of those text messages was so close to the time of the crash that the act was intrinsic to the charges faced by the defendant.

NHTSA plans to begin an advertising campaign to call attention to a distracted driving enforcement campaign which is expected to begin around the middle of the month. According to a study conducted by NHTSA and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), distracted driving is “anything that diverts the driver's attention” away “from the primary tasks of navigating a vehicle and responding to critical events.” A distraction can be visual, something that takes your eyes off the road, cognitive, something that takes your mind off the road, or manual, something that takes your hands off the wheel of the vehicle.

A National Safety Council (NSC) white paper, “Understanding the distracted brain: Why driving while using hands-free cell phones is risky behavior,” has described the risks of using a cell phone while driving, including a lack of understanding about the dangers of cell phones and hands-free devices.

The white paper included references to more than 30 scientific studies and reports, which describe how using a cell phone, hands-free or handheld, requires the brain to multitask, a process that it cannot do safely while driving. The white paper suggested that cell phone use while driving not only impairs driving performance, but it also weakens the brain's ability to capture driving cues.

The white paper also described how drivers who use cell phones have a tendencies to “look at” but not “see” up to 50 percent of the information available in their driving environment. Thus, a form of inattention blindness takes place, The result is that drivers have a difficult time monitoring their surroundings, seeking and identifying potential hazards, as well as responding to unexpected situations.

NSC stated that numerous public opinion surveys have demonstrated that most drivers believe that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous. At the same time, many of the persons who were surveyed admitted that they regularly talk or text while driving. At any time, 11 percent of all drivers are using cell phones, according to NHTSA. NSC estimates more than one out of every four motor vehicle crashes involves cell phone use at the time of the crash.

“Cell phone use while driving has become a serious public health threat,” said Janet Froetscher, NSC president and chief executive officer. “This white paper provides the necessary background and context for lawmakers and employers considering distracted driving legislation and policies. Several states and municipalities have passed legislation allowing hands-free devices while driving. These laws give the false impression that hands-free phones are a safe alternative, when the evidence is clear they are not. Understanding the distraction of the brain will help people make the right decision and put down their cell phones while driving.”

The issue of texting while driving has been raised at the Arizona Legislature in recent years, but laws limiting the act have not made their way to the desk of the governor for her signature. The Arizona Senate approved a broad texting ban in its 2010 session, only to have the measure denied a hearing in the Arizona House. Two years later, the Arizona Senate approved a narrower ban, one applying only to new teen drivers, which also never cleared the Arizona House.

The city of Phoenix adopted a texting-while-driving ban in 2007, with the city of Tucson implementing its own ban in 2012.

It is important that your criminal and DUI legal situations should be handled by expert professionals with the experience possessed by the attorneys at the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod, P.C. Our office offers free consultations for all DUI and criminal matters. Our Arizona DUI attorneys and Arizona criminal lawyers can provide you with the experience and knowledge needed for qualified representation. An experienced Arizona DUI lawyer is vital in DUI cases and our DUI attorneys set that standard. If you're in need of a criminal defense, our Arizona criminal attorneys are ready to assist you.

About the Author

Craig Penrod

Craig W. Penrod was born and raised in Arizona and has practiced criminal defense for over 30 years. Mr. Penrod is a member of the State Bar of Arizona, Maricopa County Bar Association, State of Nevada Bar Association, American Bar Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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