Monday, January 28 2019
Manipulating a cellphone was a contributing factor in more than 800 crash deaths on U.S. roads during 2017 amid a marked increase in the percentage of drivers observed interacting with cellphones, new research by the insurance institute for highway safety (IIHS) indicates. The estimated number of deaths, however, still represents a fraction of the overall crash death toll.
Virginia drivers observed in a 2018 IIHS roadside survey were 57 percent more likely to be manipulating a cellphone than drivers in a 2014 survey. The percentage of drivers observed manipulating a phone rose from 2.3 percent in 2014 to 3.4 percent in 2018.
At the same time, drivers were less likely to be seen simply holding a cellphone or talking on a hand-held phone than in the prior survey. The finding is consistent with research indicating that drivers are talking on hand-held phones less and fiddling with them more often than in recent years.
In 2018, 3.7 percent of drivers in Northern Virginia were observed talking on a hand-held cellphone, compared with 4.1 percent of drivers in 2014, while 2.8 percent of drivers in 2018 were seen holding a cellphone, compared with 4.9 percent in the prior survey.
The problem of distracted driving, especially cellphone use, continues to raise concerns. A 2018 national survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 64 percent of respondents consider distracted driving a much bigger problem today than it was three years ago.
Estimating Crash Risk
About 37,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, the most recent year of data available. Assuming the prevalence of phone manipulation nationwide rose as it did in Northern Virginia to 3.4 percent, and assuming, based on the latest research, that fatal crash risk is 66 percent higher when manipulating a phone, then more than 800 of the estimated crash deaths in 2017 could be attributed to phone manipulation.
This estimate is based on work by IIHS and other researchers describing how the estimated risk and prevalence of phone use can be combined to estimate the number of crash deaths that could be attributed to phone use in a given year (see Status Report special issue: phoning while driving, Feb. 27, 2010). The 66 percent increase in fatal crash risk associated with manipulating a cellphone relative to driving when other secondary behaviors were present is a finding of a 2018 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
“The latest data suggest that drivers are using their phones in riskier ways,” says David Kidd, who co-authored the study and is a senior research scientist with HLDI. “The observed shift in phone use is concerning because studies consistently link manipulating a cellphone while driving to increased crash risk.”
Cellphone use affects how drivers scan and process information from the roadway. Drivers generally take their eyes off the road to dial, send texts and browse the web on a hand-held phone — all activities that fall under the rubric of manipulating the phone. Drivers engaged in cellphone conversations tend to concentrate their gaze toward the center of the roadway, but their attention still may be diverted from driving and make it difficult for them to process what they are looking at.
Tracking Trends in Distraction
Procedures for the 2018 update followed those used in 2014 (see “Distracting behaviors are common at red lights, less so at roundabouts,” March 31, 2015). IIHS stationed observers at 12 locations across four Northern Virginia communities, on straight stretches of roads, at signalized intersections and at roundabouts in March 2018. Observers noted nearly 12,000 drivers in the 2018 survey and more than 14,000 drivers in 2014 during the morning, afternoon or early evening on weekdays. Researchers noted if drivers were engaging in one or more of 12 visible secondary behaviors while moving or stopped at red lights.
About 23 percent of drivers were engaged in one or more distracting activities:
“When people talk about distracted driving, most often cellphones are the focus, but drivers are distracted by other secondary behaviors more often than cellphones,” Kidd points out. “Things as simple as drinking coffee or talking to your kids can take your attention away from the road.”
About 14 percent of drivers were engaged in nonphone-related secondary behaviors in 2014 and 2018, which exceeded the proportion of drivers seen using phones in both years. Relative to 2014, drivers were more likely to be observed manipulating an in-vehicle system, grooming themselves, or manipulating or holding an electronic device other than a phone after researchers adjusted for community, perceived driver gender and age, time of day and roadway situation.
Drivers in 2018 were less likely to be talking or singing while driving alone, smoking, or wearing headphones or earbuds. The prevalence of eating or drinking, talking or singing with a passenger present, wearing a Bluetooth device, or engaging in some other visible secondary behavior wasn’t significantly different between 2014 and 2018.
“We didn’t find evidence of an increase in distracted driving overall between the 2014 and 2018 roadside surveys,” Kidd says. “For cellphone-related distraction in general, we expect a continued shift in the way people interact with the devices as the technology evolves.”
The percentage of crash deaths related to distraction in recent years has hovered at about 8–10 percent of all crash deaths, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show. During the past three years, distraction-affected crash deaths have trended downward. The number of fatalities in distraction-affected crashes fell 9.3 percent from 3,490 in 2016 to 3,166 in 2017, representing 8.5 percent of total fatalities for the year. In 2015, 3,526 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes.
Fatality data likely underestimate the number of deaths caused by distracted drivers. Despite efforts to determine cellphone use by drivers in crashes, such data continue to be difficult to collect as they largely depend on people truthfully telling law enforcement officers what they were doing or voluntarily handing over their phones for inspection.
Wednesday, January 16 2019
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis began following up on a campaign promise to make the environment a priority by signing an order last week seeking to tackle Florida’s problems with blue-green algae in its rivers and red tide off its coast.
DeSantis signed the order in Bonita Springs in southwest Florida, one of the areas where slimy algae have coated waterways because of pollutants flowing downstream from Lake Okeechobee.
“I pledged I would take action, and today we are taking action,” DeSantis said. “What we’ve done is really, really strong … I think this is something that can unite all Floridians.”
DeSantis said he will seek $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and water resources. The order not only touches on algae problems, but rising sea levels and the ongoing battle with Georgia over water diverted for Atlanta’s use instead of flowing downstream to Apalachicola Bay. The reduction of fresh water entering the bay has hurt the region’s oyster industry.
He didn’t say where the money would come from, and his office didn’t immediately respond when asked about the funding. Late in the day, DeSantis demanded the resignations of all nine members of the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees the Everglades area. The board in November extended a lease with sugar farmers for land needed for a reservoir that is key to water purification efforts, angering DeSantis.
While critics often said DeSantis’ predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, ignored science and rising sea levels, DeSantis addressed it on his second full day in office. He is creating an Office of Resiliency tasked with protecting coastal communities and wildlife from sea level rise.
“As we’ve seen things like increased flooding (and) rising waters, we want to make sure that Florida is doing what it needs to do to protect its communities,” DeSantis said.
The order also directs the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health and the tourism agency Visit Florida to work together to address algae problems. He is creating the Blue-Green Algae Task Force and the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency and a new position called chief science officer. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the new offices and position would be under the umbrella of another agency and when and how they’d be filled.
One of the priorities will be to reduce nutrients flowing into Lake Okeechobee and to treat them before they flow downstream, where algae feeds off the pollutants.
Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson had several questions about the DeSantis order.
“Will he turn to the Trump Administration? Or will he be seeking help from the Legislature? Can our state budget handle this increase? Is the plan to cut into other programs to raise the needed funds? Will Floridians lose services in one area to offset the costs for water cleanup?” Gibson said in a press release.
She did, however, praise the intent behind the order.
“We share the urgency for cleaning up our water and our environment; it’s been a top priority of ours for many years. The policies of the past administration have taken a terrible toll on our natural resources, to say nothing of the impact on our marine life,” Gibson said. “But an executive order has to have more than just lofty goals, or admirable pursuits. It has to have the details we need to judge whether these goals are doable.”
Friday, January 04 2019
A Florida roofing company owner was arrested last month after allegedly attempting to defraud multiple homeowners out of more than $49,000 and working without workers’ compensation insurance, according to a statement from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
Terry Wayne LaCoste, owner of Terry W. LaCoste Weathertight Systems, Inc. and David E. Gilliland, Inc., was arrested after the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fraud received a tip from the Pinellas County Consumer Protection, Clearwater Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office regarding complaints against LaCoste.
Investigations revealed that LaCoste allegedly victimized a total of six homeowners by making them pay deposits up-front for roofing work. LaCoste either never started on the job or never finished the contracted work. In total, the victims had a financial loss of $49,447 combined.
The investigation also revealed that LaCoste was working without the proper workers’ compensation insurance coverage.
LaCoste was arrested on Dec. 18 and transported to the Pinellas County Jail without incident. He faces charges of organized scheme to defraud, theft/misappropriation of construction funds, and working without workers’ compensation insurance coverage. If convicted on all charges, LaCoste faces up to 15 years in prison.
“Fraud like this also steals work from honest businesses and drives up insurance rates for everyone,” Patronis said. “Remember to always verify before you buy and ensure that the contractor you’re hiring is reputable and has the proper insurance coverage before allowing them to start work on your property.”