By Larry Carley (originally posted July 2009 - updated April 2021)
Talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says cell phone usage will driving distracts drivers from paying attention, creates a potential safety hazard and increases the risk of having an accident.
According to the NHTSA, distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2019 and over 400,000 accidents!
Texting is the most common distraction. At 55 mph, taking your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds is like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed!
By comparison, Drunk Driving kills nearly 11,000 people in the U.S. a year.
Cell phone usage by drivers is rampant. Twenty years ago cell phones were a novelty and only about 6 percent of people had one. In 1997 the iphone was introduced and cell phone popularity exploded. Today almost everybody has a smart phone - and many people can't put the phone down when they get behind the wheel of their vehicle. That's why distracted driving has become such a problem.
The latest market research tells us the average American adult spends over 3 hours a day on their smart phone. With teenagers, the smart phone has become a permanent appendage attached to their hand, s their typical usage is 2X to 3X higher! Most people admit that they have used their cell phones for texting or sending/viewing messages or photos while driving. And we've all seen YouTube videos of somebody live streaming while driving when they had an accident.
People just can't put down their cell phones. They gotta check their latest Facebook, Twitter and Instagram messages, emails, YouTube videos, local news, world news, buzzfeeds, you-name-it. People are so plugged into their cell phones today that it is almost impossible for them to put their phones down while driving.
Distracted driving now accounts for nearly a third of all traffic accidents (55 percent for teen drivers!).
Distracted driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving or impaired driving. Yet many young drivers don't realize the danger of taking their eyes off the road to stare at their phone screen.
As we said earlier, taking your eyes off the road for only 4.6 seconds means you've traveled the length of a football field. A lot can happen during those few seconds, often with little or no warning. If you are not paying attention and fail to react, you're probably going to rear end the vehicle ahead of you. That's why auto makers are building in automatic braking systems in so many newer vehicles. Same with blind spot detection, lane departure warning, lane correcting, steering assist and smart cruise control. They know many people are not giving 100% of their attention to what's going on around them when they are behind the wheel in their vehicle.
* Cell phone usage is the primary cause of distracted driving, but there are other causes too
Things that can distract a driver's attention include:
Billboards, signs and advertising clutter along the road
Daydreaming while driving
Eating or drinking while driving
Spilling a hot cup of coffee in your lap while driving
Smoking or vaping while driving
Looking at a driving app or Navigation screen for directions while driving
Applying makeup or personal grooming while driving
Personal grooming while driving
Trying to pop a zit while driving (gross!)
Fiddling with the radio, heater or A/C controls while driving
Listening to controversial Talk Radio or news while driving
Fussing or screaming children or crying babies in the back seat
Pets jumping around inside the car
Passengers talking at you while driving (the more passengers, the greater the distraction, especially when teenagers are involved!)
Part of being a competent driver is learning how to keep one eye on the road while multi-tasking and tuning in what is important and tuning out what is not.
The NHTSA recommends that drivers NOT use their cell phones while driving except in an emergency.
Many cities and states now have laws that forbid the use of cell phones while driving or require hands-free cell usage if you have to make or take a call. If you are involved in an accident while texting or using your cell phone, the police will check your phone log or phone records to see if you were using your device when the accident occurred. If you were, you will be ticketed and fined.
Distracted drivers are everywhere and easy to identify. It's fairly easy to spot other distracted drivers while driving because their eyes will be looking down at their lap instead of the road ahead. This can be rather unnerving when you are driving in rush hour traffic and you can see the driver's eyes behind you in your rear view mirror are not on you but their cell phone.
Laws apparently don't change bad behaviors. A good driver will know when it is safe to talk on a cell phone while driving and when it is not. A bad driver won't. Unfortunately, laws that make it illegal to talk or text while driving apparently have not had much of an effect.
Texting takes your eyes off the road as well as your brain, so I encourage all drivers to take the It Can Wait pledge. If you have to send a text or reply to a message, pull over, stop and send your text, or just wait until later.
Texting when you are stopped at a stop light or stop sign is certainly safer than texting while driving. But it can be VERY ANNOYING to the drivers behind you who are waiting for you to go when the light changes to green but you fail to react because your attention is on your phone. Wake up and pay attention! Put your phone down, put both hands on the wheel and drive your car.
If you are involved in an accident as a result of distracted driving, you should get a good traffic accident lawyer to help you negotiate traffic court and insurance settlements.
I would recommend downloading a driving app for your cell phone such as LifeSaver App and other apps that prevent texting while driving and/or automatically responds to the sender with a custom message when you receive a text while driving.
Verizon Wireless was the first wireless carrier to advocate common-sense legislation to limit or ban cellphone use while driving. With today's smartphone GPS technology, it is possible to disable cell phone usage while driving using location sensing.