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Modern cars make it easier for drivers to become distracted

Published: Sunday, Sept. 30 2012 10:49 p.m. MDT

Brent Halladay drives his 1913 Studebaker in Pleasant Grove on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PLEASANT GROVE — Driving automobiles these days is easy. Drivers have power steering, cruise control and power brakes.

Those conveniences, however, make it easy for drivers to eat in their cars or talk on the phone. And doing some of those things can have deadly consequences.

Because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention, it is by far the most alarming distraction. On a scale of one to 10 in terms of danger, Dwayne Baird, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety, says distracted driving is a 10.

"(It's) at the very top; no question about it," Baird said. "Most people can't look forward, keep their eyes on the road and text at the same time. You can't multitask like that very efficiently and effectively."

Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, according to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study. That's the equivalent, at 55 mph, of driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded.

State Fire Marshal Brent Halladay owns a 1913 Studebaker Model 25. It's not a fast car by any means, and gets about 8 mpg. The car doesn't have any of the modern conveniences.

The brakes are mechanical, there's no air conditioning and the pedals are different. The accelerator is in between the brake and the clutch. Shifting is sometimes difficult. It's the kind of car that requires the driver to have both hands on the wheel at all times.

And to make things even more interesting: In 1913, only 1 percent of the roads were paved.

"You had dirt roads and pockets and potholes and ruts, and you were bouncing around," Halladay said. "There was no riding down the road with a hamburger in one hand and texting with the other hand, not unless you wanted to end up in a ditch."

In 2010, 3,092 people were killed in crashes involving distracted driving in the U.S., according to distraction.gov. It's estimated an additional 416,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.

Baird said it's such a big part of crashes that troopers now check cellphones of people driving as part of their investigation "to determine if they're taking a call, on the phone, texting while driving."

The average driver makes about 20 major decisions during each mile driven and often has less than a half-second to react to avoid a potential collision, according to AAA.

Halladay said driving his Studebaker takes all his attention. "You have to have both hands on the wheel because you're constantly correcting the car as you're going down the road," he said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: kmccord@ksl.com

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