We Know Texting While Driving Is a Terrible Idea. So Why Do We Keep Doing It?

At any given daylight moment, about 660,000 drivers on U.S. roads are using their cell phones.

So far, the first half of 2015 has seen a 14 percent increase in motor vehicle deaths over the same period last year. More than 18,000 car-related fatalities took place between January and June, and if the rate of increase continues through the end of the year, 2015’s fatality count could exceed 40,000. That’s the highest it's been in eight years. In a press release that accompanied the release of this data, the National Safety Council (NSC) attributed the increase to lower gas prices, leading to more traffic (and accidents) overall. But Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the NSC, recently floated another theory to CNN Moneythat the increase in fatalities is a result of our addiction to texting while driving.


And it’s looking more and more like Hersman might be right, given that cell phone use while driving is the cause of one out of every four crashes—which adds up to 1.6 million crashes annually. That’s hardly surprising, considering that at any given daylight moment, about 660,000 drivers on U.S. roads are using their cell phones or some other electronic device.

Whenever the average driver checks a text message, he takes his eyes off the road for five seconds. That may not sound like a long time, but in five seconds, a car going 55 m.p.h. will travel the length of a football field. The odds are particularly dismal for young drivers, 25 percent of whom say they respond to at least one text message every time they're behind the wheel. As a result, 11 teens die in the act every day. And they’re probably picking up their behavior from Mom and Dad: 10 percent of parents admit to having had extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

Yet texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk. And the sad fact is, most of us already have some sense that that’s the case. In a study from the University of Connecticut Medical School released last year, 98 percent of those surveyed said they know the practice of texting while driving is dangerous. Nearly 75 percent of them admitted to doing it anyway. David Greenfield, who led the study, seemed to have the same point of view as Hersman when he suggested to Time magazine that:

  • “The lure of text messages is actually a lot like the appeal of slot machines… Both can be difficult compulsions to overcome for some people. The buzz of an incoming text message causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which generates excitement.”

If Hersman is right that motor vehicle fatalities are on the rise not because of lower gas prices but because so many of us can’t peel ourselves away from our phones while driving—then America has a deadly, and extremely confounding, epidemic on its hands. And repeating shocking statistics ad nauseum alongside don't-text-and-drive campaigns may not be enough to solve the problem.

What America needs is a major paradigm shift. Driver safety advocate Douglas R. Horn is the force behind Drive By Example, an initiative to reframe the overall culture of driving, which is tainted by road rage, higher rates of speed, and ever-increasing distractions. Horn's plan is three-fold:

  • \n1. "Protect Yourself." Knowing that Americans show no sign of stopping, drivers may begin to recognize that they must protect themselves. Every person that drives defensively—in an effort to protect himself from other drivers who text and drive—is one less offender behind the wheel.
  • \n2.Make It "Socially Unacceptable" to Text and Drive. The public's perception of texting while driving should be just as criminal and contemptible as its view of drunk driving. To avoid behaving in a socially unacceptable manner, drivers may be less inclined to reach for the phone while driving.
  • \n3. Model the "Highest Degree of Care" Behind the Wheel. The Drive By Example platform aims to improve America's driving culture by insisting that every driver model a "highest degree of care" approach every time he or she is behind the wheel…fixing the problem one person at a time.

Overhauling the driving culture of an entire nation is no small feat and will definitely take time. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are attempting to manage the texting and driving problem—so far with very little success. There is no federal law to prohibit texting while driving, though the behavior is illegal in 46 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But just how effective are these laws? Not very. Most texting drivers, unfortunately, are cited after an accident has occurred.

Despite the fact that those 660,000 Americans are texting in broad daylight, the cops aren't busting a whole lot of offenders. A 2013 study by USA Today revealed that texting drivers are rarely cited anywhere in the U.S., and a 2014 study by the American Journal of Public Health indicated that current laws, unfortunately, do not significantly reduce motor vehicle deaths.

Drivers who text know how to keep those phones low and out of the sight of law enforcement officers, but that's not the only problem. The laws themselves have loopholes. In some states, for example, texting while driving is illegal but Googling directions, checking Facebook, and conducting other smartphone activities are not. And some laws declare that texting while driving is only prohibited when the vehicle is moving, leaving drivers free to text away at stop signs and red lights.

Still, there’s a lot of hope out there for a solution. The very generation that is accused of being too attached to their phones is the group that's making the most progress. With a desire to leave a smaller carbon footprint, earth-conscious teens are less interested in driving than their parents and grandparents were. And the 15-to-21 age group is the only category of drivers that has experienced a decline in texting-related vehicle fatalities as a result of recent laws. Though these may be small steps, they’re heading in the right direction.

Articles

We've all felt lonely at some point in our lives. It's a human experience as universal as happiness, sadness or even hunger. But there's been a growing trend of studies and other evidence suggesting that Americans, and people in general, are feeling more lonely than ever.

It's easy to blame technology and the way our increasingly online lives have further isolated us from "real" human interactions. The Internet once held seemingly limitless promise for bringing us together but seems to be doing just the opposite.

Except that's apparently not true at all. A major study from Cigna on loneliness found that feelings of isolation and loneliness are on the rise amongst Americans but the numbers are nearly identical amongst those who use social media and those who don't. Perhaps more importantly, the study found five common traits amongst those who don't feel lonely.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
WITI Milwaukee

Joey Grundl, a pizza delivery driver for a Domino's Pizza in Waldo, Wisconsin, is being hailed as a hero for noticing a kidnapped woman's subtle cry for help.

The delivery man was sent to a woman's house to deliver a pie when her ex-boyfriend, Dean Hoffman, opened the door. Grundl looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with a black eye standing behind Hoffman. She appeared to be mouthing the words: "Call the police."

"I gave him his pizza and then I noticed behind him was his girlfriend," Grundl told WITI Milwaukee. "She pointed to a black eye that was quite visible. She mouthed the words, 'Call the police.'"

Keep Reading Show less
Good News


Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Facebook: kktv11news

A post on the Murdered by Words subreddit is going viral for the perfect way a poster shut down a knee-jerk "double-standard!" claim.

It began when a Redditor posted a 2015 Buzzfeed article story about a single dad who took cosmetology lessons to learn how to do his daughter's hair.

Most people would see the story as something positive. A dad goes out of his way to learn a skill that makes his daughter look fabulous.

Keep Reading Show less
Lifestyle