The Texting & Driving Epidemic: Distracted Driving is Killing Our Country

Every year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes the actual number of fatal crashes in the US. The most current data shows that in 2012 there were almost 31,000 fatal crashes in the US. Almost 17,000 drivers died and over 6,000 passengers were killed. In one year. Those are the numbers for just ONE year.

People mistakenly believe these tragedies only happen to other people. You’re driving safely down the road, just trying to get to work, or to the doctor’s office, or to pick up your kids from school. You’re doing the speed limit. You make complete stops. No one ever wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “I might get killed in a car accident today.” Clearly, though, people do. Thousands of people do. Over 20,000 people every year get killed in car accidents. There are also motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians killed in car accidents. There are more than 265,000,000 registered vehicles on the road and over 211,000,000 licensed drivers in the US. These numbers are staggering.

The causes of the accidents are many. Speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and distracted driving are at the top of the list for the causes of accidents. Distracted driving has become a hot topic over the last decade, with the introduction of cell phones and other wireless technology being used in cars.

Distracted driving isn’t a new problem. Eating while driving, putting on makeup, flipping through the radio buttons, talking to passengers in the car, are all examples of distracted driving. A driver’s main job in the car is to simply drive the car. Any other activity done while driving which takes attention away from driving is distracted driving.

There are essentially three types of distraction: 1) Visual – when you take your eyes off the road; 2) Manual – when you remove your hands from the wheel. This is common for people who eat while driving. People sometimes find that they can use a knee to support the steering wheel; and 3) Cognitive – taking your attention and focus from driving. Texting falls into this category.

Texting while driving is more distracting than the visual or manual types of distraction. When someone is texting, their mental focus shifts to an external activity or conversation. They’ve shifted their mental focus away from the road and potential hazards. Their eyes have been taken from the road in order to read the text and to see the buttons on the phone’s screen. They also take at least one hand from the steering wheel in order to push the buttons on their device. If they mistype a key, now the focus is really misdirected. Now they have to correct the spelling and continue with the primary message. All the while, they’re driving.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been pushing for legislation in all states to curb cell phone usage while driving. Most states currently ban texting while driving (Arizona & Montana currently do not ban texting and driving), and many have banned talking on cell phones while driving. There are many restrictions for inexperienced drivers, youths, related to texting and cell phones.

In December 2012 it was reported that more than 17 billion text messages were sent or received in the US. While most of those weren’t likely transmitted while driving, it’s clear that texting as a way to communicate is popular. Match that with the number of cars and drivers on the road, and the number of fatalities we’re seeing, and it’s alarming. It’s time to do more than legislate. It’s time to educate!