April 30th, and we have come to the end of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, 2017 – how did we do as a nation? CNN began the month by posting a story about David Teater, who travels the country to educate children about the dangers of using a phone — even a hands-free device. He is on a mission, raising awareness about the deadly problem of distracted driving, in tribute to his 12-year-old son who died because of a distracted driver.
NPR ended the month with a story about textalyzers aiming to curb distracted drivers under their All Tech Considered section. Modeled after the Breathalyzer that determines blood alcohol concentration or levels, a textalyzer would determine if you had been using your phone illegally on the road. As in the case of David Teater, the tragedy of losing a son served as the impetus to do something about the problem. Ben Lieberman’s 19-year-old son was killed in a car crash caused by a driver who was texting, drifted over the center line and hit the other vehicle head-on. Lieberman — along with the advocacy group he co-founded — has been working with a company called Cellebrite to develop a “textalyzer.” It would be able to determine whether a driver illegally was using a phone in the moments before a crash. While the technology still isn’t fully developed, Cellebrite engineers report it would be tailored to what is legal in each jurisdiction that approves its use.
Lawmakers are interested in the device in several cities as they consider ways to get drivers to focus on the road instead of their phones. According to the National Safety Council, sponsors of the April Distracted Driving Awareness campaign #JustDrive, a significant number of the close to 40,000 fatalities are attributed in part to distractions from phones. The textalyzer is going to be a game-changer when it comes to handheld devices and potentially even in-vehicle systems. “It will be the Breathalyzer of our electronics.”
“Hit and Run” leaves tractor in ditch and driver dead
Hit and Run, or Leaving the Scene of an Accident, is not just against the law, it is not good karma. And in the end, they always get their man, even if it is with a warrant. Take the case of former Bachelor reality star Chris Soules. According to police reports, Soules’ truck collided with a tractor, killing the driver. Although Soules was not charged with driving under the influence, Buchanan County (Iowa) Sheriffs charged him with allegedly leaving the scene of a fatal car accident that left one individual dead.
The media announced the story as a freak accident. It was thought that the deceased driver of the tractor was going home from a long day at work – it’s corn-planting season in Iowa – when the defendant plowed into the back of his tractor, sending both vehicles into roadside ditches. Accidentally harming another human being, and in this case causing the death of an innocent victim, is one of the most distressing experiences most of us can ever imagine. The experience can trigger a wide range of emotional and cognitive difficulties, and no one is immune. We hear of cases all the time of people who know the law and leave the scene of an accident anyway – from judges to certified driver instructors. Causing a fatal collision is a major trauma – the offender may feel numb, disconnected, detached, or dissociated from the scene, and even from themselves. Fear jumps to the top of the list for most offenders. But these are no defense for leaving the scene of a car crash, and more-so if there are fatalities involved.
It is a criminal offense to leave the scene of an accident. Nevada law requires both drivers to stay on the scene, even if the collision or crash is not their fault. If either driver willfully leaves, they are committing a crime.
DUI Offenders Carry the Scarlet Letters
What does Ohio and Nathaniel Hawthorne have in common? Both use the scarlet letter to convey a message of shame and embarrassment. The red-letter license plates became mandatory for Ohioan DUI offenders on January 1, 2014, although have been issued since 1967 as a means to publicly identify drunk drivers. The plates serve the purpose of warning both motorists and law enforcement officers to be alert for drivers with a history of driving under the influence. Georgia enacted a similar law in 2013, but the law specifies numbers, not colors, making it harder to identify DUI offenders with a history.
In Ohio, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) are grouped under the umbrella heading of Operating a Vehicle under the Influence (OVI). According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, there were 8,330 OVI Enforcements in 2016, and that many and then some during the first four months of 2017. Ohio also has the Habitual Offender Registry that lists DUI offenders with a total five convictions or more for OVI (or equivalent) within 20 years. At least one conviction must be after the law went into effect on September 30, 2008. Being on this list allows the public to see your name, date of birth, home address, and your OVI convictions. Your information remains on this list until you no longer have 5 convictions for OVI within the past 20 years.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) publishes a list of DUI-related statistics that will shock most people:
- Drunk driving costs the U.S. $132 billion per year and each adult in this country almost $500 per year.
- 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license.
- An average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before first arrest.
- On average, one in three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime.
- Every day in America, another 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes.
- In 2012, 10,322 people died in drunk driving crashes, one every 51 minutes.
- Almost every 90 seconds, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash.
- About one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders.
In a CBS article of the states with the highest DUI arrests that do not include fatalities, Ohio ranked 14th. North Dakota was #1, with a rate of drinking and driving significantly higher than the national rate – 988 out of 1,000 people admitted to alcohol-impaired driving. Are the scarlet letter/number tag, offender registry and other programs effective deterrents to drunk driving, or could a bright yellow tag with bright red letters be more effective in alerting law enforcement and increasing DUI arrests? What about states with license plates already showing red lettering? Opponents of Ohio’s “scarlet letter” plates – mainly those forced to carry them on their cars – feel that individuals are unfairly marginalized or embarrassed because of their easily-recognized status as DUI offenders. That is precisely the point.