By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg
Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of people who use a cell phone every day while driving? It’s so convenient, but it’s also potentially deadly. Thousands of people across the nation will lose their lives this year to this preventable public health problem. Tens of thousands more will suffer life-altering injuries, ranging from internal organ damage to permanent paralysis. A recent AAA survey found that 97 percent of drivers indicated that texting or email on a cellphone while driving was very or extremely dangerous and nearly 80 percent indicated holding and talking on a cellphone while driving was perceived as very or extremely dangerous. Yet, a majority of those drivers admitted to using their cellphone while driving. Why?
Most people believe that they are above-average drivers and multitaskers. However, the science says otherwise. The human brain, a single-core processor, does not multitask—it processes sequentially. Depending on the complexity of the tasks we’re attempting, our ability to keep up with multiple tasks drops due to overload. You see it on the road every day: poor lane-keeping, running red lights and stop signs, not moving when the light changes or failing to keep pace with traffic. Distraction too often manifests in a collision with another vehicle, an object, or a pedestrian. The science says that some people are literally addicted to their devices, and while most addictions are just detrimental to the user, with distracted driving, both the abuser and the innocent drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists near them are in jeopardy.
On the spectrum of distraction, talking on a cell phone, even with a handsfree device, is bad, but texting is even worse. Take your eyes off the road for more than 3 seconds, and the odds of a bad outcome go up quickly. In fact, a naturalistic driving study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash or near crash by as much as 23 times. A car traveling at 55 mph goes about the length of a football field in those 3 seconds, and, let’s be honest, it takes most people far more than 3 seconds to send a text. Each extra second multiplies the danger.
In 2011, we recommended that all states ban the use of personal electronic devices, for nondriving tasks, when the vehicle is in motion. Today, although most states have laws against texting and driving, two still don’t: Missouri and Montana. Why not? Those who oppose a ban in these states often argue that they don’t want yet another law interfering with their already over‑regulated lives. They insist it’s a matter of personal freedom.
We recently held a distracted driving round table in Missouri where we heard from survivor advocates, advocates, experts, and legislators on the need to enact a law to address the distracted driving problem in the state. The survivor advocates who have lost loved ones would tell you that a comprehensive distracted driving law could have prevented the life-altering tragedy they’ve endured that no one should have to experience.
Polls show that Americans typically support restrictions on device use, which is why most states have already enacted laws, but a few legislators are uneasy about passing laws that might be perceived as over‑reaching. A vocal minority believe their convenience outweighs the public’s right to safety on the road; however, no one has the right to put another person at risk. The reality is, distracted driving is no different than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They’re both intentional acts that cause crashes that can result in death and life-altering injuries to innocent people. Safety advocates tell drivers they can either drink or drive; they also should be telling drivers they can either text or drive.
While states continue to debate the extent of their personal electronic device bans, you can act on your own to save a life, regardless of the law in your state. Put the phone down when your vehicle is in motion. As we work toward a future where using a cell phone while driving is as unacceptable as driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, we all have a personal responsibility to help eliminate the deadly distractions on our roadways.