Traffic accident numbers spikeArea traffic accidents spiked in 2009 and though the act is not illegal, cell phone use while driving could be a factor.
Area traffic accidents spiked in 2009 and though the act is not illegal, cell phone use while driving could be a factor.
“It is a main contributor right now of accidents, is talking and texting on cell phones,” said Dickinson Police Department Chief Chuck Rummel at a January Dickinson City Commission meeting.
In 2009, the police department investigated 942 accidents, an increase of 36 percent from 2008 and a 28 percent increase from the previous five-year average, according to a DPD report.
“In 2009, we were above average for crashes every month except June and July,” said the report.
The police department investigated 148 crashes in December, the most throughout the entire year, which Rummel attributed to a blizzard and visibility issues.
“I know those first couple of days after the crews were able to get out and start clearing snow that the streets were hazardous enough without talking on a cell phone and that distraction, it gets to be very hazardous,” said Mayor Dennis Johnson during a January City Commission meeting.
Despite weather, Rummel said cell phone use during driving time is “something that needs to be addressed.”
“I think it’s a nationwide problem and it’s just going to get worse,” Rummel said.
A bill was up in the last Legislative session that would have banned texting while driving in North Dakota, however, it did not pass.
“It seems like a lot of states are going that way,” said Jamie Olson, spokesperson for the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
Rummel said unless the state would instill a law against texting while driving, it cannot be done on a local level.
“It’s going to take the Legislature to enact something the next time they come in,” Rummel said.
While 19 states, including the District of Columbia and Guam, ban text messaging while driving, 15 states have primary enforcement, which gives an officer the ability to ticket a driver for using a cell phone while driving without any other traffic offense occurring first, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association Web site.
“It is equivalent to driving DUI for distraction, so that is a real hazard,” Rummel said. “It’s something I think you’ll see the Legislature possibly address the next time they come to session. I have a feeling more and more states are going to look at that.”
Olson said a section on whether or not the use of electronic devices played a role in a citation was added to Highway Patrol forms in June 2009.
“My take on it is if you didn’t do it when you were taking your behind-the-wheel test when you got your license, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it 10 years later or five years later or 10 minutes later,” said Lt. Jody Skogen of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
But both Skogen and Olson said it can be difficult to prove if cell phone use was a contributing factor in an accident.
“It’s a tough one, it’s such a moving target,” Skogen said. “Rarely we get somebody admitting that’s what they did and we certainly know that a cell phone or texting is distracting.”
The city is presently airing a safety message on cable channel 19 about the hazards of texting while driving.