Texting: Danger on America’s Roads
November 24, 2009
Most college students are familiar with the tempting buzz buzz of a new text just waiting to be read. But when driving, in order to look at the phone sitting in the cup holder in the middle console, the driver must take one hand off of the wheel, and both eyes off of the road. And it’s dangerous.
Studies and accident statistics are showing that driving drunk is significantly less dangerous than driving while texting.
According to a driving study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute this year, distracted driving, mostly due to cell phone use, causes 80 percent of car accidents.
Research conducted by the National Safety Council showed that on any given day in 2008, more than 800,000 drivers were using cell phones while operating a vehicle.
And according to a Carnegie Mellon study, driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity needed to drive a vehicle by 37 percent.
“Sometimes you just have to send a text when you’re driving! You hear about the accidents and the danger but you never think it will happen to you,” said SMU junior Katia Todd.
These findings prompted President Obama to release an executive order titled “Federal Leadership On Reducing Text Messaging While Driving,” after the White House’s Distracted Driving Summit in October. The order bans all federal employees from texting while driving and encourages further legal preventative action by states and local officials.
The statement’s definition of texting is not limited to reading and entering data into an electronic device, but includes obtaining navigational information or engaging in any form of electronic data retrieval. Driving also includes to being temporarily stopped at a red light or stop sign.
In December of 2008, University Park, where SMU is located, put an ordinance in place to prohibit motorists from using their cell phones or texting in active school zones, though hands free devices are allowed.
“In terms of how one is cited, an officer is basically visually seeing if this activity is occurring,” said Steve Mace, the community information officer for the University Park Police Department.
“They’ll see you talking on the phone or see you distracted and working with your phone and textingl,” Mace said.
According to Mace, an average of 45 drivers each month is pulled over in violation of the no phone use in school zones ordinance. The ticket carries a fine of at least $99.
A provision to the law was created to protect drivers on the phone making emergency calls, or who are in direct contact with a doctor regarding a health emergency.
“Obviously anything that distracts you is a negative, especially in an active school zone where so many pedestrians and small children can be hidden from view,” said Mace.
The Transport Research Library conducted a study in 2008 with a group of drivers aged 17 through 24 to simulate the effects of driving while texting.
The study shows that the driver’s reaction time slows up to 45 percent when reading or writing a text message. After smoking marijuana, the driver’s reaction time is reduced by 21 percent, and only by 12 percent when at the legal alcohol limit.
The study also found that the driver’s ability to steer while operating a cell phone is reduced by 91 percent. After smoking marijuana, the ability to steer is only reduced by 35 percent.
A survey conducted by The Allstate Foundation and National Organizations for Youth Safety in 2009 shows that 87 percent of teenage drivers think texting while driving is dangerous. However, 80 percent of teenage girls and 57 percent of teenage boys admit to doing it.
SMU senior Stephanie Munves says she used to text and drive frequently. Munves, an education major, works at a local elementary school and drives through multiple school zones each day.
“I used to do it a lot, I’m not going to lie. I’ve really made a conscious effort to stop,” she said.
Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit texting and driving. The roadside assistance organization, AAA has begun a nationwide effort to pass federal and state laws that will ban drivers’ operating cell phones in all 50 states by 2013.
“The University Park City Council has had a few discussions about making the ban citywide as opposed to just in active school zones, and they are not pursuing such a thing at this time,” said Mace.
Arizona native Allie Prenger, a junior at SMU, says though texting while driving is illegal in her home state, she hasn’t seen a change in behavior.
“The fact that it is illegal doesn’t stop anyone. Everyone still does it,” she said. “It’s frustrating because you could just be changing the music on your iPhone and get pulled over.”