The administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration visited Iowa recently. In an interview with Radio Iowa, Jeffrey Runge said there are a lot of things drivers could do to avoid accidents — like cut down distractions. He says they estimate that distraction in some form may be responsible for as many as one-third of traffic crashes. He says there are 10-million traffic crashes each year in this country. Cellphones have been blamed as one distraction, but Runge isn’t ready to give them all the blame. He was they don’t know to what extent cellphones are any more dangerous than other forms of distraction. He says a conversation on a cellphone is a distraction, but he says they don’t have the data to know if drivers compensate for that distraction, and he says they’re working on that data. Runger says the vehicle you’re in is a lot better than years ago. He says cars have never been safer,but he says people still need to buckle their safety belts to let the technology and the car work with them. Drunk drivers who commit the crime again and again are a problem on the highways. Runge says combating the problem has to include everyone from law officers, to judges to prosecutors. He says there needs to be an effective prosectorial system in which there’s one district attorney assigned just to drunk driving cases, as he says they go up against defense lawyers who specialize in trying to beat the system. He says courts set up to handle only drunk driving cases have also proven to be effective. Runge himself is a doctor, and he says putting people in jail isn’t always the best way to handle drunk drivers. He says sometimes “supervised sobriety” and keeping people out of jail on the condition of sobriety has been shown to be effective. He says doctors also need to proactively screen patients for alcohol problems and get them where they need to go. Runge recently visited Des Moines to kick off an effort to increase Iowa’s seatbelt usage.
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