The New Drunk Driving
In our busy, hectic world of multitasking, the advent of the cell phone and other electronic devices has created a whole new meaning for the term “distracted driver.” Drivers have long had many things to distract them, however lighting a cigarette, putting on make up and changing the radio station are nothing compared to the cognitive impairment that the electronic devices we can use in our car creates. Not only can we talk or text on a phone, surf the net, watch television and program our GPS in our cars, we can even receive e-mail and faxes. While some may believe that a distraction is a distraction, research from the University of Utah finds that our new standards of distraction are much more “cognitively engaging and because they are performed over longer periods of time,” much more dangerous.
At this time the number one distractor is the cell phone (Virginia Tech/NHTSA). Drivers that use cell phones while driving are 5.36 times more likely to get into an accident than undistracted drivers and four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). It would seem that teens have the highest number of fatal crashes associated with cell phone use, but statistics show that the 30 – 39 year old age group has this unfortunate distinction. However, 10 percent of drivers aged 16 – 24 years old are on their phone at any one time so the odds of some sort of incident is much higher for this age group.
In a distracted driving survey conducted by the Lakeside Cheerleaders, of the 61 students surveyed, 93 % believe using a cell phone while driving is a distraction yet, ironically, 29 percent report that they text while driving and 82 % talk on their cell phones (28% rarely, 49% sometimes, 5% always). When asked if they had ever strayed into other lanes, off the road or suddenly braked as they texted, 57 % report they have. Other statistics tell us that while teens text, they spend about 10 % of their time outside of the driving lane they’re supposed to be in, and talking on a cell phone can make a young driver’s reaction time as slow as that of a 70 year old.
According to The National Safety Council, 1.4 million crashes are caused by people talking on the phone while driving. Another 200,000 are caused by texting drivers. Texting and driving creates a crash risk 23 times greater than driving while not distracted. Sending and receiving a text while driving is so dangerous that it takes the driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of blindly driving 55 mph for the entire length of a football field. Many agencies believe this estimate is on the low side because people tend to lie about their phone use when they are involved in an accident.
Many of us use headsets for our cell phones because we think it is safer than a hand-held, but the University of Utah finds that the likelihood of a crash increases fourfold when someone is talking on a cell phone (8 times more when texting). It is not just looking away from the road when using a cell phone that is the problem, but what researchers call the cognitive disconnect. The brain is so focused on the conversation that it does not recognize the images in front of it. Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 % (Carnegie Mellon).
The University of Utah study used a Patrol Sim simulator to test its participants and found that motorists talking on a handheld or hands-free phone drove slower, were 9 % slower to hit the brakes and had more variation in following distances as their attention switched between driving and talking. Three participants actually rear-ended the pace car.
The most interesting finding was that “impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk.” It delays a driver’s reaction as much as being intoxicated at the legal limit of blood alcohol, .08 %. In other words, phoning while driving is the new drunk driving.
It may not be you who is driving and using a cell phone or other electronic device, but if you are, take a moment and think of the possible harm you could cause yourself or someone else. Help our community, and hopefully America, end distracted driving. Educate everyone around you about the dangers of distracted driving and how we can improve. Perhaps it is time to make the use of cell phones while driving as unacceptable as drinking and driving.