CONCORD — Commissioner John J. Barthelmes of the Department of Safety wishes to remind all motorists that schools will be opening throughout the state over the next several weeks.
Everyone can expect to encounter yellow school buses, both large and small, during morning and afternoon commuter hours and even during the evening as students are transported to and from school and school activities.
Last spring, just before school closed, there was an unexpected upsurge in reports of motorists colliding with school buses.
In nearly every case, the cause was determined to lie with the driver of the other vehicle, not the school bus.
Many of these crashes occurred when someone ran into the rear of the school bus.
“Nobody knows for sure how some motorists are missing large yellow buses with flashing red lights and stop arms, but it is happening,” Barthelmes said. “One thing for sure is the large numbers of motorists who take the chance of engrossing themselves in text messaging or a cell phone conversation while their vehicle is in motion.”
Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has indicated that having a cell phone conversation while a vehicle is in motion is nearly as distracting even if using a “hands-free” cell phone, as with the conventional handheld phone.
Nationally, crashes involving distracted driving are killing more than nine people a day and injuring more than 400,000 people a year in the United States.
Nearly 20 percent of all crashes involve driver distraction.
The biggest cause is texting and cell phone usage, but some people have crashed while eating, shaving, applying makeup, looking in the back seat to discipline children, programming a GPS device, or even reading.
Some scientific studies indicate that texting and cell phone use while driving is as disruptive to coordination and control of a vehicle as driving while under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs, or misuse of prescription drugs, another factor that is more frequently involved with crashes these days.
The National Risky Behavior Study conducted in 2011 revealed that high school students polled admitted to engaging in risky driving behavior at least once in the past 30 days and that nearly half of all high school students with driver licenses texted or emailed while driving.
The study also found that students that text while driving are nearly twice as likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking and five times as likely to drink and drive themselves than students who don’t text while driving.
Under New Hampshire law, a person operating a moving motor vehicle who writes a text message or uses two hands to type on or operate an electronic or telecommunications device, is guilty of a violation and can be fined up to $100.
Also, a person who drives in a negligent manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property can be fined up to $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a subsequent offense. This can include inattentive driving while using a cell phone.
Barthelmes urges motorists to not allow themselves to be distracted while driving, and to stop for school buses displaying flashing red lights or stop signs, also to watch for children getting on or off a bus, biking or walking to and from schools, and to remember to reduce their speed in school zone.
Parents should also speak with any teen drivers in the family regarding texting and cell phone use while driving.
Major cell phone companies have started a “Don’t text and drive – it can wait – No text is worth the risk,” national campaign.
Parents and teens can access itcanwait.com, a website where they can obtain magnetic placards for their vehicles, that urge people not to text and drive, and teens can take a pledge not to text and drive.
They can also access a texting and driving simulator and try it out online to see just how distracting texting and driving is, and can view a film on the topic that shows the graphic consequences of distracted driving.