Fully 62 percent of high-school students admit to texting while driving, according to a survey by Students Against Drunk Driving and Liberty Mutual Insurance. Of these young texters, one in four believed there’s nothing unsafe about it.
On the other hand, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) blames the use of cell phones at the wheel for some 1,000 fatalities and 240,000 nonfatal accidents every year. That’s about 25 percent of all crashes. Add to this the facts that most young people think they can easily “multi-task” and they think they’re immortal anyway, and you’ve got a big problem.
Cell Phones Are a Major Distraction
Safety studies by NHTSA, the University of Utah, and other researchers show that cell-phone use alone – just talking – is a major distraction for most motorists. It takes away the driver’s concentration. It slows reaction time. It impedes both-hands-on-wheel control of the vehicle. As highway-patrol officers have frequently confirmed, it reduces performance to the level of driving drunk.
What’s more, it’s not just the equipment’s fault. Hands-free cell-phone use is no safer. The real culprit is the conversation itself, especially when it involves decision making or emotional upset. There is simply no way a caller can adequately do the complex work of driving – scanning the road, monitoring traffic movements, reading road signs, adjusting speed, following distance, and other variables – while on a call.
Texting multiplies these deficits and adds a few more.
- Inputting, like any kind of writing, requires more concentration that just speaking.
- Most texters need to keep glancing at the phone’s keyboard and disregarding the road.
- Reading an incoming text message can be even more problematic, as the driver squints at the tiny screen, then scrolls to follow longer messages.
- Should the car hit a bump, the phone could fly out of the user’s hand. What then?
A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has found that while texting, 4.6 of every 6 seconds are spent looking at the phone instead of the road. At 55 mph, that’s equivalent to driving the length of a football field blindfolded. So deciding whether to retrieve a dropped phone could literally be a matter of life or death.
Thumbs Down, Say Lawmakers
States lawmakers are cracking down. Texting is now outlawed in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Law enforcement officers can attest to the need, reporting that texters are easy to spot on the road since they are inattentive, swerve between lanes and drive slowly.
Other counter-measures to on-road texting are also taking hold. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), has petitioned President Obama for tougher laws. Why OSHA, the occupational agency? Because much of America’s workforce is on the road daily, delivering goods and services or conducting other business activities.
In response, the President instituted the Executive Order on Federal Leadership on Reducing Text Messaging While Driving in 2009. It prohibits texting by all federal employees during official business trips.
The courts and insurers are likewise adjusting to the spread of the texting habit. Phone-related accidents and injuries, whether caused by talking or texting, are seen as forms of driver negligence, in some cases on a par with DWI (“driving while impaired”) offenses. Increasingly, victims of such crimes are eligible to receive compensation for their losses.
Safety statistics, here and abroad, make it clear that texting and talking, whether hands-on or hands-free, make cell-phone use a major threat to public safety. But in the age of hand-held electronics, will the trend-setting Uncle Sam follow the lead of Great Britain, Japan, Chile, and more than a dozen other nations in banning these practices? The question remains open.