Distracted Driving: Time to Put Down That Phone!

By Tracey Dowdy

When I was a kid, family vacation meant driving for hours and taking the ferry to Prince Edward Island for a couple of weeks of camp. The biggest distraction for the driver was the constant
“stop touching me/stay on your side/I know I am but what are you?” bickering from the back seat and the occasional wildlife that would wander out on to the highway.

Not so today. Not that kids have miraculously stopped bickering – this isn’t a Disney movie – but with handheld devices and video screens built into the headrests, the biggest distraction is no longer coming from the backseat. Now it’s right there in the hands of the driver.

Although most of us admit distracted driving is dangerous, there’s a clear disconnect between acknowledging the problem and changing our behavior. With a staggering 74 percent of Americans admitting that they talk on the phone while driving, and the fact summer sees the highest incidence of teen accidents (7 of the 10 deadliest days for teen drivers fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day), it’s time to take a hard look at our driving habits.

Consider these statistics from DoSomething.org:

  • 10% of fatal accidents involving drivers under 20 were determined to be related to distracted driving.
  • 5 seconds is the minimum amount of time that a driver takes his eyes off the road while texting. If the car is traveling at 55 mph, that’s equivalent to the length of a football field.
  • Texting makes a crash up to 23 times more likely.
  • Teens who text while driving spend 10% of the time outside their lane.
  • According to AT&T’s Teen Driver Survey, 97% of teens agree that texting while driving is dangerous, yet 43% do it anyway.
  • 19% of drivers of all ages admit to surfing the web while driving.
  • 43 states, plus D.C., prohibit all drivers from texting.
  • 40% of teens say that they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone.
  • The most recent National Occupant Protection Use Survey finds that women are more likely than men to reach for their cell phones while driving.
  • According to 77% of teens, adults tell them not to text or email while driving, yet adults do it themselves “all the time.”
  • 9 in 10 teens expect a reply to a text or email within five minutes or less, which puts pressure on them to respond while driving.

Arguably the most distressing of those statistics is the belief by teens that adults text or e-mail while driving “all the time.” We are quick to criticize and accuse teen drivers of careless driving, but what examples are we setting? Maybe we’re not texting, but we’re taking a business call instead. Maybe we’re scrolling through a playlist or getting GPS directions from Siri. Maybe we’re like the woman ahead of me in traffic yesterday who was smoking, eating a doughnut, drinking coffee and checking her eye make-up.

Whatever we’re doing, let’s stop. Let’s put the phone down, put the coffee down, and fix our make up when we get to office. The risks and the consequences are simply too high.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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