Texting while driving (TWD) is SIX times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated (DWI). A National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study done in 2012 informs us that TWD is also more dangerous than driving while high on marijuana.
Car and Driver Magazine reached the same conclusion in 2009 when they conducted a test that measured braking times and distances.
C&D rigged a car to alert drivers when to brake. They then tested how long it took the driver to brake when sober, when legally drunk at .08, when reading an e-mail, and when sending a text. Driving at 70 miles per hour, the driver was slower and slower reacting and braking when e-mailing and texting.
Unimpaired: .54 seconds to brake
Legally drunk: add 4 feet
Reading e-mail: add 36 feet
Sending a text: add 70 feet
The reason texting while driving is so dangerous is because it involves three out of three types or categories of distracted driving, while being under the influence of alcohol or marijuana only distracts the driver in two ways.
Distracted driving comes in three different forms:
- Cognitive or mental distraction occurs when a driver’s mind isn’t focused on driving. Distractions can include talking to another passenger and listening to the radio. These distractions take the drivers’ focus away from their driving.
- Visual distraction occurs when a driver looks at anything other than the road ahead. Checking a child’s seat belt is a visually distracting behavior as is glancing at electronic devices for the car such as GPS devices.
- Manual distraction occurs when the driver takes one or both hands off the wheel for any reason. Common examples include eating and drinking in the car, adjusting the GPS, or trying to get something from a purse, wallet, or briefcase.
TWD involves all three types of distraction. DWI does not involve Manual distraction.
Statistics that tell us the number of collisions, the number of injuries, the number of deaths and the financial costs to society support the conclusion that TWD is on the increase. Drunk driving statistics in all these categories are mixed, but overall are decreasing.
In 2012 TWD accounted for over 1.6 million accidents in the United States. Every day in 2012, 1,060 people were injured. Eleven teens died each day.
Overall, TWD is the leading cause of death among teen drivers. TWD is responsible for slightly less than 25 percent of all automobile collisions.
It is not surprising to learn that teenagers are the worst offenders of TWD. Their maturity level and their ability to understand the potential consequences of their actions have not fully developed. What is surprising, however, is that TWD behavior of adults has increased year by year.
It is hard to find a company or organization that has some connection to automobiles or driving that is not involved in a campaign that points out the danger of TWD. These campaigns, however, represent only some of the PR efforts that attempt to carry the same message to the public. Insurance companies advertise, AT&T brings simulators to public events, Toyota has a teen campaign. Schools make safety announcements every morning.
Besides the fact that tragedy is regarded as “good” news for the media in that it tends to attract larger numbers of viewers, the media appropriately report the horror stories of TWD in an effort to help us address this serious problem. TWD collisions that result in death are reported, they shock us, they get us angry, they evoke resignation and often lead us to promise not to text while driving. Yet we as a society continue texting while sitting behind the wheel.
Indeed, today’s society is a distracted society. Watching the television commercial showing a man texting while at a urinal, along with the man standing next to him asking “really?” evokes laughter, but drives home the point.
We have convinced ourselves of the importance of staying connected and of the need for others to hear from us immediately if not sooner. We believe we can multi-task successfully in virtually all situations without consequences.
Driving a car is something most of do many times each day. But for precisely that reason, we forget how truly demanding it is to drive safely, while believe we are the best driver. We, particularly teens, believe we are invincible, and that tragedy will not strike us.
Interestingly, when asked questions on this topic, most of us give honest answers. State Farm Insurance Company has conducted a survey in this area every year since 2009. The State Farm survey asks drivers to share their thoughts on the degree of “distractedness” they would attach to numerous behaviors while driving.
Overwhelmingly, survey participants found TWD (both sending and reading a text while driving) to be “very distracting” and by significant percentage points greater than the remaining two types of distracted behavior, such as reaching for something in the car and attending to a pet or a child.
Public opinion polls overwhelmingly reveal there is support for restrictive laws on distracted driving.
It is thus abundantly clear that everyone recognizes this problem. It is also clear that almost all of our legislators recognize the problem.
Only Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and South Carolina have no “anti-TWD” laws. Alaska’s punishment for a first TWD offense is a ten thousand dollar fine and one year in jail. California’s fine is only twenty dollars. The median punishment around the country is a fine of one hundred dollars.
Most states’ laws in this area are ridiculously lax, falling well below the punishments given to drivers for DWI offenses.
Virginia passed a law this year raising distracted driving a primary offense. Many states have this designation as well. All states should. The passing and enforcing of such laws enable a police officer to stop and charge you solely because you are texting.
Virginia’s law is an example of a good start, but it has holes. There are exceptions for telephone calls and GPS adjustments. These actually make it difficult for police to enforce the law, because violations become difficult to detect and then prove.
Hopefully, police in Virginia and police everywhere will stop drivers suspected of TWD even if later they cannot secure convictions. The deterrent effect works even without a conviction, and after all, the end goal is the protection and safety of all drivers.
The ONLY way to begin to end distracted driving behavior is to completely ban the use of cell phones when driving. Call your state legislator.