By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
While legislators in New Jersey are considering passing a law against distracted driving that is broader than just texting and talking on cells phones, local law enforcement officers are encouraging drivers to stay totally focused on driving.
The New Jersey law would prohibit drinking, eating and any other activities unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle. It would ban drinking any beverage, eating and even grooming, such as applying lipstick.
The proposed New Jersey law is modeled after that of Maine’s, which passed in 2009 and outlaws distracted driving altogether.
Recently, a one-vehicle accident occurred in Shinnston that could have been caused by being momentarily distracted. It’s important to note that the possible cause of this accident–just turning to speak to the passenger–would not even fall under the proposed New Jersey law.
A silver Honda Pilot ended up on its top on Aug. 4 at approximately 10:50 a.m. in front of City Auto Sales. A Shinnston mother and her daughter were the only ones in the vehicle. They were not apparently seriously injured in the accident and refused medical transport, reports Shinnston Police Sgt. J.E. Harbert.
The vehicle, driven by the mother, was heading south on U.S. Rt. 19/Hood Avenue. Arriving upon the scene, Harbert said he witnessed the up-ended vehicle and both females were outside the vehicle. The fire department was already onsite.
Harbert stated that the accident, which could have had a more dire outcome, was probably caused by something we all do all the time – converse with others in a vehicle.
“The daughter had said something to the mother,” he recounted. “The mother then turned her head to look at the daughter to answer her.”
Harbert said in just that millisecond of an instant, she lost control of the vehicle and started to run off the road and into the ditch.
“The vehicle hit a pipe and that put her into an embankment, which caused the vehicle to roll over and onto its top,” he explained.
Harbert stated that just that tiny amount of time caused enough distraction to cause the accident.
“It’s a proven fact that where your head turns, that’s where the vehicle is going to follow,” he said.
“And it doesn’t matter where you are; it just takes a fraction of a second when you’re distracted to lose control of a vehicle,” Harbert states.
He reports that he saw no signs of braking when she went into the ditch, which is very common. People usually hit the gas pedal instead of the break to get out of a ditch.
“It’s a natural reaction,” Harbert explains. “People just panic and hit the gas. But you should use the break and not worry about being in a ditch. You can always get towed.”
He added, “Everybody makes mistakes. And when people are panicked, the brain doesn’t exactly work as usual.”
The driver was not cited for the accident, Harbert reports, saying the accident appeared to be just that – an accident.
But even when no laws are broken, tragic accidents can occur from distracted driving. Harbert warns all drivers to keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel and their complete attention to driving their vehicle safely – every second, every fraction of a second.
“Just pay attention,” he cautions. “Stay alert so you can stay on the road. You don’t have to look at someone to talk to them.”
The accident is still under investigation.
As for New Jersey…we’ll keep our eyes on them to see what they decide about their distracted driving law.