Behind-the-wheel texting and cell phone chatting is the new drunk driving. Research is now conclusive that distracted drivers are a worsening traffic safety problem. In fact, some form of driver inattention is involved in 80 percent of crashes. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, which tracked the behavior of actual drivers, found that the risk of a “crash or near crash event” increased by 23 times if a driver was texting. Past research may have exaggerated the dangers of talking on cell phones while driving, but significant risk is associated with dialing. The key factor in terms of risk is the amount of time a driver’s eyes aren’t on the road ahead.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is leading a federal push to explore how regulation, public education, enforcement, and technology itself can be employed to ease the dangers of driver inattention. Proposed legislation would cut federal highway funds to any state that fails to ban text messaging while driving. The public seems ready for tougher measures; recent polls show that 9 out of 10 American adults believe such behaviors should be illegal.
Convincing drivers that they are endangering themselves and others is a huge challenge. Not only do people tend to rate their own driving skills too highly, they also frequently accept a level of risk that blinds them to the endangerment of others. Sociologists call this “I’m not the problem” mentality “pluralistic ignorance”—in other words: “Reality applies to everybody but me.” Another reason people today take such risks is the social pressure to be available 24-7.
- Shocking Stats on Texting While Driving
While covering numerous aspects of the recent research on distracted driving, this article also includes a link to an interactive game that measures a person’s reaction time as affected by external distractions such as handling cell phones or iPods.(Source: CBS News, August 29, 2009)
- Texting While Driving: Why Do People Do It?
This article applies the sociological concept of “pluralistic ignorance” to understanding the problem of texting while driving.(Source: The Sacramento Bee, September 23, 2009)
- Government Eyes Crackdown on Texting and Driving
This NPR report, which focuses on a Department of Transportation conference on the federal government’s response to the problem of texting while driving, also summarizes the recent research findings.(Source: National Public Radio, September 30, 2009)
- Video Highlights Danger of Texting While Driving
This article discusses the graphic video, produced by a police department in the U.K. as a public service announcement intended for high schools, that was seen by millions during the summer of 2009 via the Internet; includes a video clip.(Source: National Public Radio, September 1, 2009)