Distracted driving involving a cell phone is believed to be responsible for the death of a 14-year-old pedestrian.
The California Highway Patrol said retrieving a cell phone from the floor of a vehicle allegedly caused a woman motorist to veer off the Highway 120 roadway east of Manteca near Comconex Road and strike four pedestrians —killing one and injuring three — at 1:15 a.m. Saturday
Mia Sara Aguiar, 19, of Stockton who had been driving a 1995 Saturn in a westerly direction was arrested for manslaughter. A 14-year-old Manteca boy was transported to Doctors Hospital of Manteca and then to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto where he died, officers said.
A 15-year-old Manteca boy and a 16 year-old Stockton girl were taken to San Joaquin County General Hospital in French Camp with major and moderate injuries from the impact. A 16-year-old Manteca boy with minor injuries was transported to Doctors Hospital of Manteca with minor injuries, police said.
CHP Public Information Officer James Smith said the group of teens had been walking along the north shoulder of Highway 120 west of Comconex Road when Aguiar was driving westbound and looked away from the roadway attempting to locate her cellular phone. That allowed the vehicle to drift to the right, colliding with the four pedestrians.
Smith said that neither alcohol nor drugs are believed to be factors in the collision. Aguiar was transported to the San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp where she is being held in lieu of $100,000 bail charged with manslaughter with gross negligence.
The death comes during the statewide Distracted Awareness Month campaign being conducted by the CHP and over 200 local law enforcement agencies including Manteca.
Three special high visibility enforcement operations to cite cell phone violators have already taken place with the last effort being this Tuesday in Manteca.
The “It’s Not Worth It!” theme emphasizes that a phone call or text isn’t worth a hefty fine or a collision. The current minimum ticket cost is $161, with subsequent tickets costing at least $281.
“We take the issue of distracted driving very seriously,” noted Manteca Police Department Chief Obligacion in a press release issued earlier this month “because we see the aftermath of these totally preventable crashes. Is that text message or cell phone call really worth $161, or worse, someone’s life?”
Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. In addition, studies show that texting while driving can delay a driver’s reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol content of a legally drunk driver. According to research, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. Even a three second glance at freeway speeds means a driver has traveled the distance of a football field.
Research shows that there is no difference in the risks between hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversations, both of which can result in “inattention blindness” which occurs when the brain isn’t seeing what is clearly visible because the drivers’ focus is on the phone conversation and not on the road. When over one third of your brain’s functioning that should be on your driving moves over to cell phone talking, you can become a cell phone “zombie.”
In 2012, 3,328 people were killed and 421,000 were injured in distraction-affected crashes according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. That represents 10 percent of all traffic fatalities.
In 2013, nearly 62% of California drivers surveyed said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was talking or texting on a cell phone based on a California Traffic Safety Survey.
Today there are over 330 million mobile devices users, 60 percent of whom use Smartphones capable of doing most anything a computer can do, but in your hand while driving.