Have you ever texted while driving? If so, you’re not alone. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, as many as 1 out of 4 adults said they have sent a text while behind the wheel, the same as driving-age teenagers. And at any given moment, over 800,000 Americans are texting, making calls, or using a handheld device while driving. This is all despite the fact that drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be involved in a car crash than non-distracted drivers, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).
According to Village of Mamaroneck (VOM) police spokesperson Detective Sandra DiRuzza, the exact number of drivers who get into accidents as a result of distracted driving is hard to quantify as people are unlikely to admit that their texting or cell phone usage caused an accident. A violation can only be issued if a police officer actually witnesses the driver in the act.
Although NY already prohibits drivers from using a hand-held cell phone while driving, penalizing law-breakers with a two-point violation plus $100 fine, a new law, effective Feb. 16, prohibits them from texting or e-mailing while driving, or risk a $150 fine and two-point violation.
The “electronic device” law—initially passed in NY State in November 2009—forbid drivers from sending text messages or e-mails from a cell or smartphone—and imposed a fine of up to $150 for violators. As a “secondary offense,” however, the law, even in it's current form, can only be enforced if the driver had committed another offense first, such as speeding.
The number of summonses issued for using cell phone violations dropped 28 percent from 2009-10, from 467 to 336 in the VOM, said DiRuzza.
“People are talking less or they’re using Bluetooth,” she said.
Texting while driving is one form of “distracted driving” of which there are 3 main types, according to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration:
- Visual—taking your eyes off the road.
- Manual—taking your hands off the wheel.
- Cognitive—taking your mind off of what you’re doing.
As much as 20 percent of injury crashes involved reports of distracted driving in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These types of accidents are becoming more and more prevalent—and can be even more destructive than drinking while driving. The portion of drivers reportedly distracted at the time of a fatal car crash increased from 7 percent in 2005 to 11 percent in 2009 according to police-reported data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the National Automotive Sampling. Meanwhile, the rate of alcohol impaired driving fatalities continues to decrease, reported the Century Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible drinking.
A study conducted by David Strayer at the University of Utah found that people are at least as impaired when they drive and use a cell phone as when they drive drunk (at the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08 percent, the minimum level for drunk driving in many states).
In Strayer’s driving simulator study—which involved 40 participants with either 0.08 blood-alcohol level or using a cell phone—drivers using the cell phones:
- Were slower to hit the brakes.
- Displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance as their attention shifted between road and device.
- Were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking.
- Were more likely to crash.
Another study out of the University of Utah found that texting while driving is even more dangerous than talking on a cell phone while driving—those who text are six times more likely to crash than those not texting. Similarly, a 2008 British study conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory found that texting had more impact on lane positioning and reaction time than cell phone use or drug and alcohol consumption.
The dangers of texting while driving continue to receive broad national attention through published studies and awareness campaigns. Oprah’s No Phone Zone is a major national effort as is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Put It Down program and the Decide to Drive campaign sponsored by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Additionally, numerous states, including New York, have banned texting while driving. Yet people continue to text and drive although well aware of the risks associated with it. A 2009 AAA Foundation study found that over half of drivers—54.9 percent)—who admit texting or emailing while driving say it makes them much more likely to be involved in a car accident.
Texting, talking, reading, eating, grooming, using a GPS and even adjusting the music are all forms of distracted driving that can be fatal. April is distracted driving awareness month—a good time to pay close attention to the road, not a text.