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Jan/Feb 2010 Issue

Driver distraction is causing more fatal crashes each year

At a time when upwards of 800,000 vehicles on the road are driven at any given time by someone using a hand-held cell phone, more fatal crashes are occurring because of driver distraction, new federal research has found.

According to a new study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of fatal crashes involving driver distraction has grown to 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008, up from 12 percent in 2004. In addition, an estimated 22 percent of injury crashes in 2008 involved distracted driving.

“Every single time someone takes their eyes or their focus off the road, even for just a few seconds, they put their lives and the lives of others in danger,” explained

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible and in a split second, its consequences can be devastating.”

In 2008, 5,870 people lost their lives and an estimated 515,000 people were injured in police-reported crashes in which at least one form of driver distraction was reported on the crash report. These numbers are significant, but they may not state the true scope of the problem because the identification of distraction and its role in the crash by law enforcement can be very difficult.

Distractions can include anything from texting or talking on a cell phone to eating, drinking, conversing with passengers or reaching for something. Greater sophistication of in-vehicle technologies and portable electronic devices may present greater physical and cognitive challenges for drivers in the coming years, researchers speculate.

The worst offenders for using iPods, Blackberrys and cell phones for texting and talking while driving are the youngest, least-experienced drivers, NHTSA’s research shows. In fact, about one in six of all under-20 drivers who were involved in fatal crashes during 2008 were reported to have been distracted while driving.

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AAA-sponsored Funny Car driver wins title

The Auto Club congratulates Robert Hight, driver of the John Force Racing Auto Club Ford Mustang, as the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car World Champion.

For much of the early 2009 season, the Auto Club Funny Car team struggled to find consistency. After the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Hight found himself 10th in the championship standings, but the team posted three wins in the next five events, rocketing into the lead.

Hight secured his first NHRA Funny Car World Championship (and the 16th for John Force Racing) at the end of qualifying at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona on Nov. 14. This impressive accomplishment was accentuated by Ashley Force Hood’s second-place overall finish in the 2009 standings. Teammate Mike Neff won the Auto Club Finals on Nov. 15, his first career win, besting Force Hood in the last round.

“The biggest motivator for us was John Force,” Hight said. “He just kept telling us to keep on trying and never give up. Once we got into the Count-down (the final six races of the 2009 season), I knew we could be the team to beat.”

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Robert Hight with the NHRA World Championship trophy. Ron Lewis photo.



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