Don't Drive “Intexticated”
It's more dangerous than drunk driving
August 5, 2011 was a bright and sunny day in Grey Summit, Missouri. Two busloads of high school band members were on Interstate 44, on their way to the band's annual trip to a regional amusement park. Ahead of them was a 19-year-old man driving a silver pickup truck, who was behind a truck tractor without a trailer that was slowing down because of highway construction..
At 10:10 am, the driver of the pickup truck was engaged in his 11th text message. At 10:11, he rammed into the back of the Volvo. Then his vehicle was rammed and run over by the first of the school buses, which was immediately rear-ended by the second. The pickup driver and a 15-year-old girl who was sitting in the back seat of the first bus were killed and 38 other people were injured.
The 2011 death toll from accidents caused by texting while driving isn't in yet, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that in 2010 more than 3,000 people were killed on U.S. highways by distracted drivers. And while 35 states have now banned texting while driving, the practice appears to be soaring.
Late last year, NHTSA reported that texting and the use of cell phones while driving jumped by 50 per from 2009 to 2010, from 0.6 percent of all drivers to 0.9 percent. But a 2010 study by the private Pew Research Center estimated that 27 percent of all adults text while driving, and that nearly half – 47 percent – of those who own a cell phone and use a text messaging service use it while driving. That's closer to the finding of NHTSA attitude survey in December that 66 percent of all adult drivers will answer cell phone calls at the wheel without pulling over to the side of the road.
While Americans now agree that drunk driving is unacceptable, studies show that texting while driving is an even greater danger:
- In 2009, Car and Driver magazine tested an editor's reaction time and distance driving 70 mph on a deserted air strip. Driving legally drunk added 4 feet to his braking distance, compared to an extra 36 feet when he was sober and reading a text message, and 70 feet when he was sending a text message.
- In 2010, the Texas Transportation Institute tested 42 drivers aged 16 to 54 on a closed 11-mile track. It found that when they were receiving or sending text messages, their reaction times doubled, from one to two seconds undistracted to three to four seconds distracted. It also found that driving at just 30 mph, distracted drivers had difficulty staying their lanes and maintaining a steady speed. “We had participants strike barrels, and it is very scary to think this is happening on our public roadways,” said a study spokeswoman.
- A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in 2009 found that truck drivers who text were 23 times more likely to have an accident than drivers who don't. The findings were the result of watching drivers whose trucks were outfitted with video cameras for 18 months.
The dangers have prompted the U.S. National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) to call upon all states to ban the use of electronic devices -- hand-held and hands-free – for any purpose while driving. Still, some drivers don't seem to think texting is a major problem.
When interviewed by the New York Times shortly after the Virginia Tech study was released, one 22 year-old male driver from Maine and recent college graduate had this to say about texting at the wheel: “It's convenient. I put the phone on top of the wheel and text with both thumbs.” But sometimes, he admitted, “I'll look up and realize there's a car sitting there and swerve around it. I'm pretty sure someday it's going to come back to bite me.”
Here's hoping he heard what NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman told ABC News last December: “We know that accidents happen in the blink of an eye. You never know what call, what text, what post could be your last if you do it behind the wheel.”