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Texting While Driving

Texting while driving is the act of composing, sending, reading text messages, email, or making other similar use of the web on a mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle. The practice has been viewed by many people and authorities as dangerous. It has also been ruled as the cause of some motor vehicle accidents, and in some places has been outlawed or restricted. Texting while driving leads to increased distraction behind the wheel. In 2006, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group conducted a survey of more than 90 teens from more than 26 high schools nationwide. The results showed that 37% of students consider texting to be “very” or “extremely” distracting. A study by the American Automobile Association discovered that 46% of teens admitted to being distracted behind the wheel because of texting. This distraction is alarming, because 40% of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger. The risk of crashing while texting increases by 23 times, because reading or sending a text diverts the driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds—the same as driving the length of a football field, blind, at 55 mph.

Dangers of Texting While Driving

Driving calls for 100% concentration, bearing in mind that one is usually in the midst of many other road users like pedestrians and motorists. It therefore goes without saying that one should not engage in other-mind-involving activities while driving. Among the distractors of driving, and which are major contributors to road accidents include sending text messages, SMS, MMS or generally texting while driving. However, many people have turned a deaf ear to legal information that prohibits use of the mobile phone while driving, be it on superhighways or on less major roads in and out of cities. Law enforcement authorities have done the best they can in sensitizing the general public on the dangers of texting while driving, the practice being quoted as one of the leading causes of car accidents the world over.

A survey conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance in 2006 showed that sending text messages, SMS, MMS or texting while driving leads to increased distraction of up to 23 times because it poses a great risk of crashing, hence endangering the lives the people in the car, the driver included. Previously, talking on phone while driving was considered dangerous, but now statistics show that texting has become more popular and is more risky as it takes the eyes off the road for an average of 4.7 seconds. This is considered as dangerous as driving across a football field with eyes closed at speed of 55mph.

Federal and State Laws on Texting While Driving

A majority of countries have legally put a ban on the use of mobile phones while driving. They have provided legal information on the consequences of texting while driving and the penalties applicable if one is caught breaking this law. In Canada for example, all provinces, save for Nunavut and Yukon, have banned talking on phone and texting while driving. In Alberta, Bill 16, which is yet to become law, was formulated, and it strongly forbids use of mobile phone while driving.

In Germany, using the phone as long as the car engine is running is considered criminal. However, a hand-free device can be used for as long as the driver is not distracted. This applies in other countries like Netherlands and United States. In contrast, it is not considered a traffic offence to talk on phone or send text messages, SMS or MMS while driving in Sweden. In United Kingdom, use of a mobile device is illegal, even when at a halt at traffic lights or supervising a driver under instructions. However, this law becomes an exception when a driver needs to make an emergency call to 999 or 112.

Many accidents have been reported as having happened as a result of using mobile devices while driving. For example, on 29th August 2007, Danny Oates died after being hit by a driver who was texting while driving. In 2008, 25 people died in the Chatsworth Train collision as a result of the operator texting while driving. A crash occurred in May 2009 in Boston on the MBTA Green Line when a 24year old driver was sending a text to his girlfriend while driving. These are just some of the statistics that should not be ignored and people need to observe the law to avoid otherwise avoidable accidents.

Although talking on a mobile phone while operating a vehicle is considered dangerous, the threat increased as Short Message Service, or texting, became popular. Texting has become a social norm fairly quickly since the year 2000, as most cell phone plans include a text messaging package. The popularity of smartphones, which allow people to communicate in even more ways, increases the likelihood of usage. It cannot be contested that text messaging and other forms of text communication on mobile phones offer a level of convenience that cannot be matched. The dilemma is at what point do we chose safety over convenience. Many studies have linked texting while driving to the cause of life-threatening accidents due to driver distraction. The International Telecommunication Union states that “texting, making calls, and other interaction with in-vehicle information and communication systems while driving is a serious source of driver distraction and increases the risk of traffic accidents”.

A 2010 experiment with Car and Driver magazine editor Eddie Alterman that took place at a deserted air strip showed that texting while driving had a greater impact on safety than driving drunk. While legally drunk, Alterman’s stopping distance from 70 mph increased by 4 feet; by contrast, reading an e-mail added 36 feet, and sending a text added 70 feet. While celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey have campaigned against texting while driving, there are reports that the message has not been getting through to teenagers.