Cellphones are an integral part of our daily lives. We read news on our smartphones, get weather and traffic conditions, text, and can even watch TV and movies on our phones. This pervasiveness of smartphone technology has come with a price, however. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 660,000 drivers use electronic devices while driving daily, thereby increasing the amount of distracted driving over the years, and putting all those on the road at risk, including drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
What is “distracted driving”?
Distracted driving has a very clear definition. Anything that redirects a driver’s attention away from the task of driving — whether it’s a person, activity, or an object — is considered distracted driving. This includes eating, putting on makeup, shaving, and talking on the phone or texting. Even arguing with someone else in the car is sufficient to divert attention away from the task of driving. The key factor is what researchers call “cognitive intensity,” which means how much attention the task or activity requires. The greater the focus shift, the greater the risk of an accident.
The results of distracted driving can be deadly. In 2015, the most recent year for which official statistics have been published, there were 3,477 deaths and 391,000 injuries attributed to distracted driving.
AT&T launched the It Can Wait campaign in 2010 to combat texting while driving, and it has the support of more than 1,500 organizations, including some auto insurers. The campaign encourages drivers to sign a pledge not to drive distracted, and AT&T has developed a free “drive mode” app that silences text message alerts, and sends an automatic response notifying whomever texted that the recipient is driving.
More distracting than people realize
Although most people who text while they are driving believe that they are only taking their eyes off the road for a moment, it presents more of an issue than people realize. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that on average a text took a driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. When driving at 55 mph, that is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blindfolded.
Model good behavior
One of the most important things that parents can do is to model good driving behavior for their children. If you’re a parent, don’t talk on the phone or text while you are driving. If you’re the parent of a teen, talk to them about the dangers of distracted driving.
Know the law
Forty-seven states ban texting while driving for all drivers, and all but four are “primary enforcement” states, meaning a law enforcement officer can pull you over and ticket you based on that infraction alone. Fifteen states prohibit hand-held cellphone use for all drivers. Thirty-eight states ban all cellphone use by “novice drivers.” Some municipalities can have more restrictive rules, while some states have preemption laws on the books that prohibit local jurisdictions from having their own bans.
Commit to give driving your full attention. Distracted driving affects us all in some way — increased accidents raise premiums, and the dangers on the roadways are obvious to anyone who has ever been behind a driver whose attention is elsewhere.
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