The dangers of texting and driving A public safety epidemic

The cellular telephone and other pieces of modern technology have changed the way the world works. It has allowed us to stay in constant communication with our friends and families and to get work done more efficiently. Despite all of the wonderful avenues it has opened for us there are some drawbacks that have emerged. Besides of course being in constant contact with the boss (who may now expect you to do work on your day off) there is a bigger danger: Texting and driving.

Admit it, we have all done it. Many people think it is no big deal. Well it is. It is such a big deal that all 50 states have made it illegal to do so in one form or another and in some states you can be pulled over for an offense of texting alone. That doesn’t even begin to touch other nations some of which have banned cell phone usage while the car is running. A AAA study found that 34% of teen drivers admit to texting while driving and 40% say that they have been in a car where the driver was either talking on the phone or texting and became distracted.

In the United States there are about 1.6 million car accidents a year with 500,000 causing bodily injury leading to 6,000 fatalities. Texting causes 25% of all of those accidents and is the leading cause of death among teenagers. Despite celebrities like Oprah Winfrey campaigning against it and numerous government programs aimed at getting the message out, it isn’t reaching the populace.

Driving under the influence is another major cause of collisions in this nation, and admit it you or someone you know has done this as well. In a 2010 Car and Driver Magazine study an editor measured how long it took to stop while both under the influence of alcohol and while texting. Coming to a stop from 70mph the editor took four feet longer to stop while under the influence of alcohol. Texting added 21 feet to the stopping distance and reading an email on his phone added 36 feet! That is three car lengths. Another Car and Driver Magazine study found that the amount of reaction time needed when responding to a fext is nearly a second longer than normal. At 55 mph that is around 80 feet before the driver would stop. At that distance your car will stop when it hits the back of the one in front of you. Multiply that out to include the 4-5 seconds it takes to read a text. Remember this is more than just being out on the road with other motorists. The child riding his or her bike in your neighborhood isn’t going to be looking to see if you are on the phone. That child’s life and safety is not worth a text message no matter who is sending it.

Another AAA study found that 87% of drivers consider texting and distracted driving to be a very serious safety threat compared to 90% who consider drunk driving the same. If this is such a serious safety threat why are the numbers increasing? After all you can’t help but see some sort of PSA when watching TV or listening to the radio. For teens it is simple in a way; they see their parents doing it. Teens see that and believe not only that it is OK but that they are good enough drivers that they can avoid any collision. Guess which group of people also use their cell phones more than any other group? 16-24 year olds, or our least experienced drivers. In 2015 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 people injured in crashes involving distracted drivers in the US according to the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration.

This is becoming an epidemic in this country. Drunken driving was not considered to be a problem until a group like Mothers Against Drunk Driving came along and changed the public’s perception. There are laws on the books and they are being enforced though many could have more teeth to them. Using a cell phone while driving is outlawed in 26 states and the District of Columbia while texting is outlawed in 20 states. The other four ban texting while driving in certain instances. Many of these laws are known as Heather’s Law, named for Heather Leigh Hurd, who in 2008 was killed by a truck driver in Florida who was allegedly texting.

So if the law and parental influence is going to be ineffective there is only one solution: technology. Some companies employ technology that prohibits cellphone use while in a vehicle based on a GPS signal, data from the car and nearby cell phone towers. An app, TextNoMore rewards users who do not text while driving. Along the same lines an iPhone app can detect if a person is driving and remind them not to text and drive. Android phones offer an app that can detect if a person is potentially texting and driving and warn the driver not to do it (as well as report it to their parents).

This is a problem that we all must conquer, after all we all pay for it. Our car and health insurance premiums are only going to rise as insurance companies deal with the fallout of distracted driving incidents you can bet that we are all paying for it. While it is nice to think that anyone convicted of distracted driving will have their car insurance premiums increase just like anyone convicted of a DUI will, that is not enough of a deterrent. There is a simple way to reduce the number of vehicular crashes in our nation by 25% and it is not to text and drive. We are all in this together and one more life lost or damaged is too much. The safety of everyone on the road starts with you.

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