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Driving While Talking & Texting
on a Cell Phone

Nowadays almost everyone has a cell phone. At any given daylight moment, 974,000 vehicles on the road are being driven by someone on a hand-held phone (NHTSA). Over 236 million people subscribe to wireless communication devices (Insurance Information Institute) and cell phone use accounts for 2,600 vehicle fatalities and 300,000 collisions annually.

Many cell phone users like to stay in touch with friends and family constantly. That's fine when you're not driving, but it's a big concern when you are driving.

Here are the numbers/statistics:

  • Risk of collision increases by up to 400% when talking on a cell phone while driving
  • Nearly 80% of collisions involve some form of driver inattention (distraction, fatigue or looking away)
  • In one study of 100 drivers, cell phones were associated with the highest frequency of distraction-related events for crashes and near-crashes
  • Another study, done with driving simulators, found that when talking on a cellphone:
  1. Young drivers' response times to brake lights ahead were as slow as those by elderly drivers
  2. Drivers of all ages were 9% slower in hitting their brakes when needed
  3. Crash rates were more than 5 times greater than for undistracted drivers. That's an increase of over 500%!

As you can see, cell phone use while driving is a major issue in today's society. Another driving safety issue related to the cell phone is text messaging.

Text Messaging

Not too long after cell phones became more widely used, the process of "texting" began. Texting has grown in popularity, such that today many cell phone users use their phone to both talk and text. How is texting different from talking on a cell phone?

  • Texting requires you to spend more time looking at the small screen on the cell phone
  • Text messages are typically shorter than conversations
  • Texting may involve having two hands on the cell phone

To understand the effects of texting on driving we need to understand the driving task. At its simplest, driving can be divided into three main tasks:

  1. Perception - the driver must perceive what's going on in the driving environment
  2. Decision - the driver must use the information gained through perception to make a decision on what to do about a particular situation
  3. Action - the driver must execute his/her decision

The driver perceives a car ahead stopping suddenly (Perception)

To avoid colliding with the suddenly stopping car ahead, the driver must decide whether to apply the brakes or steer around (Decision)

The driver avoids a collision by turning the steering wheel to drive around the vehicle ahead (Action)

Where can a driver error take place? In all three! They're all important. A mistake in any one of these could cause the chance of a collision to increase substantially. The more things we try to do at once, the less effective we can be at any single one. Our ability to make decisions is reduced because of the multiple tasks attempted. We must place our primary focus on driving when we're behind the wheel.

Note that texting may be even more dangerous than talking on a cell phone. When texting, the driver must often take his/her eyes off the roadway to look at the small screen on the phone.This could be different than talking on the phone, which might allow the driver to keep his/her eyes on the road to a greater degree. If your attention is devoted to texting and you fail to perceive the car stopping or turning in front of you, you'll never even get to the second step (decision)! Even if you typically make great decisions and have excellent vehicle control skills, if you don't perceive the need to activate these skills because you failed in perception, you're far more likely to experience a collision!

What can you as a driver do to prevent being distracted while driving? Before you drive, turn your cell phone off. Let voicemail capture your messages, both voice and text. Pick up your messages later, once you've completed your journey. If you have to call or text, pull off the road safely and stop.


Some Positive Cell Phone Statistics
Although cell phone use on the road is a risk management concern, it is also true that wireless technologies do provide benefits to safety and traffic management.

  • The Cellular Telephone and Internet Association reported that drivers using cell phones place 139,000 emergency calls each day.
  • Cell phones have also proven to be beneficial in a driver's personal security by allowing drivers to contact help quickly when they experience roadside mechanical problems.

When used properly, cell phones can be a great asset. However, when you combine multiple tasks such as cell phone use and texting it has a measurable effect on ones ability to perceive, decide and take action to even minor situations.

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