“The fault, dear drivers, is not in our stars, but in ourselves...”
by David Greiser
Between 4,000 and 8,000 crashes related to distracted driving occur daily in the United States, according to the American Automobile Association. Cell phone use is the fastest growing form of distraction. Research shows that dialing a cell phone and using or reaching for an electronic device while driving increases the risk of collision about six times. In the moments before a crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices, enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field. In July of this year the New York Times published NHTSA data (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/technology/21distracted.html) showing that highway safety researchers estimated that cell phone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents in 2002 (http://documents.nytimes.com/documents-from-the-u-s-department-of-transportation-s-national-highway-traffic-safety-administration#p=1).
Texting is the most distracting activity for drivers using cell phones. Texting while driving is the act of sending or reading text messages or email while operating a motor vehicle. Study results published by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/story.php?relyear=2009&itemno=571) found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting. The risk for drivers of cars and small trucks will be released later this year but is expected to be similar. The Institute reported that driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, with nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involving some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. The portion of those texting is unknown but significant.
It’s even worse for teens, our least experienced drivers. A study by AAA reports (http://www.aaanewsroom.net/Main/Default.asp?CategoryID=7&ArticleID=554) that an alarming 46 percent of teens admitted to being distracted while driving due to texting. Combine this information with the fact that vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for those under the age of 34 in Kansas and it becomes clear that teens texting while driving is a lethal cocktail.
Car and Driver magazine conducted a recent experiment showed that texting while driving had a greater impact on safety than driving drunk. According to Car and Driver (http://www.caranddriver.com/features/09q2/texting_while_driving_how_dangerous_is_it_-feature), “While reading a text and driving at 35 mph, Editor Eddie Alterman’s average baseline reaction time of 0.57 second nearly tripled, to 1.44 seconds. While texting, his response time was 1.36 seconds. These figures correspond to an extra 45 and 41 feet, respectively, before hitting the brakes. His reaction time after drinking averaged 0.64 second and, by comparison, added only seven feet. The results at 70 mph were similar: Alterman’s response time while reading a text was 0.35 second longer than his base performance of 0.56 second, and writing a text added 0.68 second to his reaction time. But his intoxicated number increased only 0.04 second over the base score, to a total of 0.60 second.”
The public correctly views drinking and driving as wrong. But when it comes to texting and driving, we are not as outraged. How many more accidents and deaths will it take to change that attitude?
Fourteen states have already passed laws prohibiting texting while driving (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/29/technology/29distracted.html). It is time for the other 36 to do the same.
David Greiser is a Public Affairs Manager with KDOT.