TWD: an ignored technological ‘epidemic’

Arizona is not one of 30 states to have a ban on texting while driving, but it should be. An Arizona Senate bill to ban texting and driving died in the House this year, which is why a recent survey by Auto Club AAA and Seventeen magazine, featured in a USA Today article, is an ominous reminder for all drivers and passengers in Tempe. According to the poll, almost nine in 10 teens on the road drive while texting or talking on a cell phone with the understanding of the dangers involved.

As U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said, cell phone use while driving is an “epidemic.” Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 due to distracted driving according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Harvard Center of Risk Analysis reported that cell phone use costs America $43 billion a year and about 2,600 deaths annually. Texting while driving kills an average of 11 teens every day, according to insurance company Allstate’s “Teen Text Pledge” website.

Statistics give a dubious competition between which is worse: texting and driving or drinking and driving. Car and Driver magazine tested how long it took to brake by having a driver drive drunk with a .08 BAC then drive sober while texting and driving. Completing the latter caused the driver to brake 66 feet later than when legally drunk.

Even texting aficionados who have mastered the keypads will still be distracted because our brains can’t focus on the road when searching for our phones, flipping them open or thinking about what to say after someone responds to the text. Each of these activities immediately impairs ability to react if forced into a dangerous situation. Case in point: Allstate’s Teen Text website states driving at 55 mph and sending one text is equal to driving the length of a football field without looking.

Sheer volume makes texting while driving equally as dangerous as drinking and driving; however, drinking while driving is easier to enforce. There is no equivalent to a speed camera or set checkpoints that can aid officers in catching people texting and driving. So enacting a law to ban the practice would not bring an end, so much as it would present a difficult task for law enforcement. But the steep fine in the bill of up to $200 would be a start in working to decline pointless calamities.
Fortunately, technology offers a few useful options to avoid distracted driving. Hands-free devices such as Bluetooth are an alternative to hand-held use of cell phones, and some smartphone applications such as “Text’n Drive” read text messages aloud. The law in the legislature would have allowed for this type of use.

Drivers must consider if the message they are sending is worth the risk. If the recipient of a text message truly cares about the sender, he or she would prefer it to not be sent while someone is simultaneously driving. LaHood offers useful advice on his blog, “We need the common sense to know your own habits — if you can’t resist the phone, don’t just put it down; put it in the glove compartment or in the trunk.”

In order for this hazardous practice to decline, we must oblige the research, heed the warnings and take away cell phones while driving as we do with keys at a party. With such little steps, countless lives can be saved.

Please send Zach an e-mail while driving at Zachary.Levin-Epstein@asu.edu