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Distracted drivers endanger Hawaii walkers

Distracted drivers endanger Hawaii walkers

September 2, 2014

Hawaii is the nation’s most dangerous state for elderly walkers, a study shows. But a series of laws enacted here to stop distracted driving does not prohibit motorists from using GPS devices and mobile apps for navigational purposes.

That is the case despite a federal move to restrict Google Maps and other types of smartphone apps that could take drivers’ attention away from the road.

A study by Smart Growth America found that even though older Americans make up 12.6 percent of the population, those 65 and above are killed in 21 percent of fatal crashes involving pedestrians.

Hawaii has the highest pedestrian fatality rate reported for senior citizens nationwide:

  • 6.81 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 for adults 65 and older, which is three times higher than Hawaii’s fatality rate for pedestrians of all ages.
  • 9.75 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 for adults 75 and older, much higher than the next most dangerous state, California, which had a fatality rate of 6.4 for the 75-and-above group.

The study points out that, as a tourist destination, Hawaii could have skewed figures because data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not make note of the victim’s residence. If an older person from another state is killed while walking in Hawaii, it is counted as part of Hawaii’s population of senior citizens.

Even so, the study notes, the pedestrian fatality rate of seniors in Florida, another state heavy on tourism, is barely higher than that for the state’s overall population.

Seniors may be more vulnerable to pedestrian crashes because their reaction time is slower when faced with a vehicle coming toward them. They’re also likely to be frail, making it harder for them to recover from injuries sustained in a wreck.

As more seniors stop driving, they’re also more likely to turn to walking as a primary mode of transportation, increasing the number of walking trips and the likelihood they could be involved in accidents, the study points out.

Hawaii crackdown

Distracted driving is a growing danger on the nation’s roadways, primarily because of Americans’ attachment to technological devices.

In 2011 and 2012, an average of 3,340 people were killed in distraction-related crashes, reports. Injuries related to crashes involving distracted drivers increased to 421,000 in 2012 from 387,000 the previous year.

With an eye toward the dangers of distracted driving, Hawaii passed some of the most restrictive laws in the country, according to

  • Texting and hand-held cell-phone use are illegal for all drivers.
  • Any type of cell-phone use is illegal for novice drivers, those 18 and younger.
  • Young drivers also are prohibited from using video-game devices and music devices.
  • All motorists are prohibited from sending and receiving text messages while behind the wheel.

Adult drivers, however, can use hands-free devices, including those built into dashboards and hands-free attachments, as well as GPS devices and mobile apps for navigational purposes.

Federal initiative

The U.S. Transportation Department is seeking congressional approval to regulate navigation devices, including smartphone apps – if they are considered dangerous – the same way it controls mechanisms on vehicles, according to a New York Times article.

Federal regulators, however, contend that they have authority over those cell-phone apps that provide maps and that it should be written into law.

No matter how this battle plays out in Congress or in the courts, there is no doubt that drivers need to pay more attention while behind the wheel. A driver’s full focus should be on the road, not on programming a GPS or smartphone app. Hawaii’s tourists and senior citizens are too precious to put at risk.

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