Texting and Driving: A Dangerous Gamble

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In 2010 the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported that the typical teenager sends and receives about 50 texts per day or 1,500 per month. But with the rapid increase in the number of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 owning cell phones, the dangers of texting behavior increases exponentially.

Despite the fact that texting while driving is illegal in many states, including in Georgia, where I live, I’m still seeing teens and adults juggling the difficult tasks of driving, texting and talking on cell phones. It’s difficult to find a driver that isn’t driving distracted. And many of them are teens. Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released results of a survey that found 58 percent of high school seniors said they had recently texted or emailed while driving. High school juniors weren’t as dumb. Only 43 percent of them texted while driving.

Unfortunately, the increase in the number of cell phones and the increase in the number of texters has resulted in traffic fatalities directly attributed to distracted driving. The University of North Texas Health Science Center studied 2010 traffic data and determined that at least 16,141 deaths were attributed to texting while driving during the years of 2002-2007.

In fact, the anti-texting law in Georgia was inspired by the death of an 18-year-old distracted driver named Caleb Sorohan. His parents, rather than hushing up the cause of his death, championed the passage of the Georgia law, nicknamed “Caleb’s Law,” to prevent other senseless deaths resulting from texting while driving. He died just minutes from home after sending and receiving text messages on a cellphone he kept in his lap while driving. Much of the danger comes from the speed of the vehicle traveling while the driver is spending even five seconds looking at a phone. During those five seconds, the car traveling at typical highway speeds will travel the length of a football field, without an aware driver.

The death of the texting teen isn’t the only danger. There’s also the collateral damage. The National Center for Statistics and Analysis estimated that in 2009 some 448,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes caused by distracted driving.

If this is such a big issue, how can we educate our teens to ditch the cell phone while driving? Authorities in Belgium are trying a unique tactic. Recently they conducted drivers licensing exams REQUIRING the teens to text and drive in order to pass and receive a license.

Here’s a YouTube video entitled “The Impossible Texting and Driving Test:”

California has a different problem. A bill is working its way through the state Assembly banning texting while biking. What’s next? A ban on texting while walking? Hey, wait, that’s a pretty good idea ... that’s already been implemented in Fort Lee, N.J., where they’ve had a rash of pedestrian accidents after people texting and stepping in front of cars. In New York City, there was a girl who was injured while texting and walking after she fell into a manhole.  Much as we’d like to protect everyone from their own stupidity, it does end up becoming an endless cycle of intervention. If you’ve read any of the warning labels on products, you’ll know what I mean.

Yet, most teen drivers don’t know they’re impaired. Dr. David Strayer, from the University of Utah, found that multitasking brains work slower and have inhibited reaction times when compared to people who are concentrating on one thing at a time, i.e. driving.

"For comparison purposes, someone who's drunk at a 0.08 blood alcohol level has a four-time crash increase,” said Strayer on The Oprah Show.  “So talking on a cell phone is about the same as driving drunk," he says. "When you're text messaging, the crash risk goes up to eight times."

Digging In:

Centers for Disease Control Report on Teens and Texting

David Strayer’s Research

National Center for Statistics and Analysis: Distracted Driving 2009 Report

Pew Internet & American Life Project

2 thoughts on “Texting and Driving: A Dangerous Gamble

  1. Erik – so sorry to hear you almost lost your daughter to a distracted driver. It’s a problem with tragic consequences.

    I’m glad that it motivated you to do something about this issue!

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  2. I think we live in a culture where business people need to ‘hit the ball over the net’. Teens consider it rude not to reply immediately to texts. Home schedules would grind to a halt without immediate communication. We are conditioned to pursue this level of efficiency but we are all supposed cease this behavior once we sit in our respective 5,000 pound pieces of steel and glass. Creating a sustainably safer driver may start with public awareness via legislation but legislation alone cannot win this battle.

    I read that more than 3/4 of teens text daily – many text more 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook – even with their professors. Tweens (ages 9 -12) send texts to each other from their bikes. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and I think we need to do more than legislate.

    I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user, I built a texting asset called OTTER that is a simple and intuitive GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. While driving, OTTER silences those distracting call ringtones and chimes unless a bluetooth is enabled. The texting auto reply allows anyone to schedule a ‘texting blackout period’ in any situation like a meeting or a lecture without feeling disconnected. This software is a social messaging tool for the end user that also empowers this same individual to be a sustainably safer driver.

    Erik Wood, owner
    OTTER app
    do one thing well… be great.