Distracted Driving: Why Isn’t It Getting More Attention?

We all know the risks involved in using a cellphone or texting while driving. We even know statistics that tell us that drivers using phones are four times more likely to be involved in crashes. However, we often fool ourselves into thinking that we will not be a victim in such accidents. We believe that the numbers do not apply to us.

In response to the growing problem, the New York Times released a series of articles and other publications that explored the extent of the cellphone problem and why we have been so slow to respond to an epidemic of injury and death caused by cellphone use and other types of distracted driving. There has been extensive research on the matter – research that drivers and state and local law enforcement agencies have often ignored.

The Extent of the Problem and Its Causes

The extent of the problem has been clear for some time. In 2003, for example, a Harvard University study estimated that cellphones and similar distractions caused 2,600 deaths each year in addition to 330,000 accidents that left people moderately or severely injured. In the nearly 10 years since the Harvard study, the situation has not improved.

The issue: People have an inflated idea of their own driving abilities, although they acknowledge that others may be affected by cellphone use. Additionally, state, local and even federal law enforcement officials do not dig deeply into cellphone use when investigating accidents. And car manufacturers pay lip service to solving the problem, but continue to sell gadgets that cause distractions.

Statistics Tell the Story About Cellphone Use

Almost everyone in the United States has a cellphone. In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that 11 percent of drivers used a cellphone while driving during the day. In 2011, Nationwide Mutual Insurance reported that 81 percent of cellphone owners admitted talking on the phone while driving. Almost half of respondents in the Nationwide survey said they had been hit or experienced near misses while driving.

Efforts to Solve the Problem of Cellphone Use

Some promote hands-free devices as a way to reduce the danger of talking on the phone while driving. But hands-free devices, required in five states and the District of Columbia, may be almost as bad, because the act of holding a conversation can be enough to make drivers take their eyes off the road.

Other efforts include laws in 14 states that prohibit texting while driving. However, other states are adamant that they will not restrict drivers’ ability to use cellphones and other devices. Telephone companies admonish users to not talk or text while driving, but have not supported legislative efforts to ban such behavior.

Compare Cellphone Use to Drunk Driving

In 2009, 5,000 people were killed and 450,000 others were injured because of cellphone use, texting and other distractions while driving. However, there has been no effort similar to that undertaken by MADD to prevent drunk driving, even though the risk of an accident is similar to the risk assumed by drivers with a .08 blood alcohol content. People who would never think of driving after drinking routinely use cellphones.

Why Is Cellphone Use Not Getting Proper Attention?

Why are people not up in arms about driving while distracted by cellphones and texts? It’s hard to say. Some believe that the pressure to stay in touch overwhelms any thoughts of safe vehicle operation. Others think that multitaskers may be addicted – literally – to their gadgets. Other reasons cited for lack of enthusiasm for regulating cellphone use include the lack of long-term studies and the fact that most conclusions are based on self-reporting. Many states do not have a place on the accident report form for police to indicate that an accident was the result of distracted driving. Some legislators believe that regulating cellphone use represents the start of a slippery slope that will erode individual freedoms.

What Can You Do About Texting While Driving?

You can help make the roads safer by:

  • Not texting while driving — ever
  • Not letting your friends text and drive when you are in the car
  • Remembering that if you are texting while driving and cause an accident, you will be held accountable
  • Knowing that if you are injured by a driver who is texting, you may be able to take legal action

Texting while driving could affect you every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle, even if you don’t do it yourself. Be alert and drive defensively.

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