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Compass: While driving, turn the digital devices off. Period

I am appalled at ADN's columns from Julia O'Malley on the use of digital devices while driving. In addition to the flippant treatment of a serious problem, I take issue with ADN's editorial decision to publish any commentary, rather than news, on the front page of a notionally competent newspaper.

The first column, on Oct. 9, implies that some people would rather drive distracted than risk even a moment's disconnect from their "peeps," and Ms. O'Malley appears sympathetic. The second, the next day, implied that distracted driving laws and the ability to enforce them are so vague and weak that you probably won't get ticketed. While she mentions increased accident rates and an optional device that limits connections while driving, half-measures don't come close to solving the problem.

The bottom line: When you choose to drive while distracted by any of Julia's precious devices, you put my life, your life and every other driver's life at risk. After many years of decreasing accident rates and fatalities, mainly due to safety innovations like anti-lock braking, traction control systems and effective airbag systems, accidents and fatalities are on the rise.

According to the National Safety Council, distracted driving is now the second leading contributing cause of accidents after excessive speed for conditions. About 25 percent of accidents result from distracted driving. This figure is probably far too low, given the difficulty in documenting the distractions of crash victims and the fact that current statistics are several years out of date. While texting, video watching, onboard Skype connections and hand-held cellphones cause the most distraction, several studies have shown that use of even hands-free devices while driving causes just as many accidents as their less sophisticated counterparts.

Anything that interrupts your focus on the road and other drivers increases the probability of an accident.

Safe driving requires complete concentration on the task at hand. Take one lap around downtown Anchorage with a competent defensive driver and you quickly conclude there's enough going on to demand your full attention: complex traffic patterns, spaced-out ear bud-equipped pedestrians, changing construction zones, double-parked delivery vehicles, and far too many distracted drivers making multiple lane changes, failing to yield entering traffic circles, turning into one way streets and running red lights.

Given our driving environment, use of any device that distracts you from driving, maintaining control of a potentially deadly vehicle, is not just foolhardy but irresponsible. Once the darkness and ice of winter arrive, any distraction, from electronic devices to talkative passengers, is a recipe for more collisions.

We shouldn't placate the emotionally distraught with understanding or nitpick the inadequacy of the current legal framework and the problems of enforcement. Some, like Ms. O'Malley, might argue that their digital devices are essential to modern life. I contend that use of these devices is an inefficient substitute for proper prior planning and that they are a threat to continued life. Their use is not essential and, most important, not worth either of our lives or sheet metal.

Pulling onto the shoulder of the Glenn or into a temporarily vacant bus stop in town when your device buzzes aren't answers. The right answer: When you get in your car, shut off your digital devices and focus on driving. So tune out, turn off and just drive.

Dan Bonney is a retired career military officer who spends five hours daily in Anchorage traffic observing distracted drivers while teaching his students how to avoid them as a state certified driving instructor and examiner.



By DAN BONNEY