Documentaries

Focal Point: 'Fatal Distraction'

Posted August 23, 2010
Updated July 18, 2012

Air date: Thursday, August 26, 7 p.m.

Cell phone use has exploded in the last decade and most of us are probably guilty of using our cell phones while driving. But research shows that drivers on cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than other drivers and distracted drivers are responsible for nearly 30 percent of crashes.

As two horrific accidents in North Carolina show, the results can be deadly.

Last Mother’s Day in Greensboro a women was rear-ended on Interstate 40 by a truck driver on a cell phone. Two of her children were killed.

Last December, just three days before Christmas, an Orange County woman was struck by an Amtrak train killing her and her five-year-old son. The highway patrol said she had her cell phone in her hand and inadvertently went under the crossing gate as it was coming down.

Despite ban, teen cell phone usage while driving increases Focal Point: Fatal Distraction

While there can be many distractions while driving, such as eating, tuning the radio and talking to passengers, researchers say talking on a cell phone is especially distracting because it impairs cognitive function. They say drivers using cell phones may have their eyes on the road, but their minds are not. While research on using cell phones while driving continues, state lawmakers have already banned cell phone use by school bus drivers and drivers under 18 years old. They have also banned texting while driving. But efforts to pass a ban on cell phone use by all drivers has stalled. Many lawmakers question whether it’s enforceable and conservative activists say such a law is unnecessary.

Focal Point: “Fatal Distraction” examines the deadly consequences of cell phone use by drivers in two tragic accidents in North Carolina, the research on cell phone use while driving and the political debate over whether it should be banned outright.

Related links

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

UNC Center Highway Safety Research Center

Host: Monica Laliberte

Writer/Producer: Clay Johnson

Photographer/Editor: Jay Jennings

11 Comments

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  • cyauch Aug 27, 2010

    Its hard to believe that people really think their job is more important than the safety of their own children and others on the road. If it really "IS that important" then you need to put your kids on a school bus and sit at your desk to make your calls. I have had several close calls of people swerving over the line and almost sideswiping me or hitting me head on and I can tell you that each and every time they were looking down, presumably at their cell phone ( I doubt it was to see if their shoes were tied while they were driving!)!

  • just4lillie Aug 26, 2010

    Absolutely powerful! Well done!
    BTW below: Losing my child for your business IS NOT that important. WRAL you have my pledge!

  • acc_blood Aug 26, 2010

    How many fatal accidents occurred in NC last year? And you cite 2 to show that cell phones cause more accidents. And one of those you cited is questionable as to whether the driver was on the phone.

    The fact is that accidents happen. Some happen because accidents happen. Some happen because we allow any idiot to get a license. Some happen because our roads and intersections are poorly designed. Some happen because kids are in the car. And some happen because the driver is distracted, possibly by their cell phone.

    My favorite, though, is the attitude of people who obviously don't have a revenue-oriented job. It's easy for a retired soldier to say "no call is that important." Hey, calling your daughter or grandson may not be, but when I have to get the kids to school at 8, and a customer that only has time between 8 and 8:30 - guess what, it IS that important.

    BTW, cell phone use without a hands free in a car should be against the law.

  • meredith06alum Aug 25, 2010

    WHEN POSTING INFORMATION, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR INFO IS CORRECT. ERIN WAS NOT ON HER CELL PHONE WHEN HER CAR WENT ON THE TRACK. GET YOUR STORIES STRAIGHT. ERIN IS MY 1ST COUSIN AND THE POLICE TOLD OUR FAMILY THAT SHE WAS INDEED NOT ON HER PHONE AT THE TIME OF THE ACCIDENT. I WILL NO LONGER SUPPORT WRAL FOR POSTING FALSE INFO.

  • mchljam2 Aug 25, 2010

    I believe cell phone use besides hands free should be banned!!! End of discussion.My husband drives an 18 wheeler and ALL day long passes drivers texting while driving!! There are definitely ways to enforce this. HP on highways , and cameras can catch people running red lights. I'm pretty sure they could be angled to catch texting while driving!! Lets stop making excuses and step up!!

  • donnaa1374 Aug 25, 2010

    I would like for the story airing on Thursday to have a clear definition on "No texting while driving". Of course I know what this is but I don't think most drivers do. I take it to mean that you don't read or navigate to read or even start a text while you are on the road, or if the vehicle is moving at all, or sitting at a stop light, because you are on the road and distracted from the responsibilities of watching the light. It is maddening when I see someone trying to park or pull out of a park while on the phone.I also, think that Phones are a danger also, because everyone gets email these days and pick up the phone to READ an email while driving. JUST AS BAD! Don't these people have any common sense. We shouldn't need a law to help us see common sense but the past proves we do. So far, too many people have been killed with phones being the root cause of the distraction. Please spend some time on the act of texting, the steps in texting that are so dangerous, and phone email use.

  • audiemd Aug 24, 2010

    I don't agree with a ban for cell phones. People don't want to be responsible in this country for anything anymore. It is a disgrace that people want the government controlling their lives completely. Strange, since government can't do anything right. One should try learning how to live right. Learn to be responsible. People need to take care of their own life. There will always be problems with the vehicles they drive to the homes they live in. Grow up America. For every life that is gone cell phones save many lives. Of course people can't think anymore, so they just shoot their mouth off without any thought or research. Thousands of truck drivers and every day folks are traveling the roads daily and they are saved by cell phones. The other people on the road with them were saved also. If they were not talking on the phone they may not be here anymore. When one travels hours and hours on the road that is when one gets into accidents from falling asleep at the wheel from boredom. Phon

  • Vietnam Vet Aug 24, 2010

    I get the biggest kick out of some of my neighbors... Just pulled out of their driveway and they're immediately on the phone. What...couldn't have called from home before they got into the car? Hands free talking? Maybe. Texting, no way. Way too much distraction. The talking is bad enough. When I first heard of the idea of banning cell phone use in cars I was against it. But lately I've been rethinking my position. People do some of the dumbest stuff trying to drive and use the phone. No call or text message is THAT important!

  • jgedwardsjr Aug 24, 2010

    I agree with the ban of texting and using cell phones while driving, I can also say as a retired law enforcement officer it will be a hard law to enforce, unless you can catch the drivers in the act. Another thought that people may want to consider is the fact that Drivers education is no longer taught in the school systems, it has been dropped and now private orginizations teach our youg drivers. I believe our youg drivers don't get the proper instruction they need now days. I think a study should be conducted to look at the difference of teaching kids in school and teaching by private companies. That may be a eye opener. I was on 440 Sunday returning from the beach and was passed by a young girl who was texting while driving with a small dog in her lap and bothe her hands were on the key board typing and not on the sterring wheel, but get this she was traveling at 85 mph! It's a shame that people will put others lives in danger for a text message and a pet. GET REAL PEOPLE!! Have con

  • sbrown072 Aug 23, 2010

    I drive US64 from Raleigh to Rocky Mount and back every day. You won't believe the number of cars that hog the left lane running below the speed limit, then I have to pass them on the right, and they are yaking away on the phone. A minute or two later here they come blasting by me, still on the phone... then a couple of minutes later I pass them (they are below the speed limit again) and I have to pass on the right again of course because they are still in the left hand lane and on the phone. What a nightmare. They weave on the road, etc. Just don't pay attention. I NEVER see a HP car on that highway. NEVER. Was on US264 last weekend and pulled up beside a woman in a SUV who was texting away. I drove right beside her for 2 miles just staring at her and she never knew I was there. When I took my exit she was still texting away. She was in the left lane and had kids in the child seats in the back. NOT A CLUE. People wake up!

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