Reporter Journal / William Hennelly

Keep your eyes on the road and your hands off the electronic devices

By William Hennelly (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-02-04 12:22

The Chinese and the Americans love their smartphones. So it's no surprise that they share one of the unfortunate side-effects of the electronic addiction: texting while driving.

Leqing court in Zhejiang province recently sentenced a 22-year-old man to a year in prison and ordered him to pay a 200,000 yuan ($30,400) fine for hitting a pedestrian while driving and trying to delete a game app on his cellphone.

Cellphone use while driving is the top cause of fatal traffic accidents in Zhengzhou, Henan province, more than those caused by speeding, dangerous passing and drunken driving.

In Shanghai in 2014, texting and receiving calls while driving was found to be the top cause of fatal accidents. There were 690 deadly crashes from January to October 2014 in Shanghai; 29.6 percent of them were the result of drivers texting and receiving calls, according to police. Only 19 of the accidents, or 2.8 percent, were caused by drunken driving.

Keep your eyes on the road and your hands off the electronic devices

China amended its criminal law four years ago to criminalize drunken driving for the first time.

Under China's current traffic safety law, people caught texting while driving are fined.

There is a growing call to make the use of cellphones while driving a crime in China. Many netizens say the activity should be treated the same as driving under the influence.

But Xie Caifeng, a fellow at the research office of Shunyi Court in Beijing, recommends a cautious approach to writing new laws. Writing in an op-ed piece in China Daily on Wednesday, Xie said that if a person is incriminated or sentenced by a court, no matter whether he or she is imprisoned or fined, reputations are greatly damaged.

Many people find it difficult to find work after serving a criminal sentence. Xie wrote that under China's national traffic code, it is illegal to use handheld phones while driving, and an offender could be subject to a fine of up to 200 yuan ($30.40).

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200,000 people die on the roads in China every year.

In the US, the National Safety Council said that mobile devices were involved in 26 percent of all vehicle crashes in 2014.

According to, a US government website, 3,154 people were killed in motor-vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2013.

While that was a 6.7 percent decrease in the number of fatalities recorded in 2012, approximately 424,000 people were injured, an increase from the 421,000 people hurt in 2012.

What constitutes distracted driving? According to the website, it's mostly the following: texting; using a cellphone or smartphone; eating and drinking; talking to passengers; grooming; reading, including maps; using a navigation system; watching a video; and adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player.

But because text messaging takes visual, manual, and cognitive attention, it is by far the worst distraction.

Ten percent of drivers of all ages under 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted during the crash. That age group has the largest proportion of distracted drivers.

Drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of distracted drivers in fatal crashes, according to the site. At any given daylight moment, about 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or electronic devices while driving in the US.

Also, people who engage in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated hand-held phones and other devices increased their risk of getting into a crash threefold.

Five seconds is the average time a person's eyes are off the road while texting, said. At 55mph, that would be enough time to travel the length of a football field blindfolded.

Headset cellphone use is not substantially safer than handheld use. A quarter of teens respond to a text message while driving. Twenty percent of teenagers and 10 percent of parents admit that they have multimessage text conversations while driving, said.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have banned talking on a handheld cellphone while driving; texting is prohibited for drivers in 46 states and in Washington, DC.

In 1970, when the idea of a smartphone was the stuff of science fiction, Jim Morrison of The Doors sang in Roadhouse Blues: "Keep your eyes on the road your hands upon the wheel." It's still relevant today.

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