The new road hazard Driving while texting

Thursday, June 26, 2008
Photo by Erma Harris

It only takes a few seconds of relapsed concentration to drive completely out of a lane, according to David Dinges, a scientist from Penn State in an interview on "CBS News," and those few seconds have proven to be all a driver needs to take their eyes off the road and fixate them to their mobile phones.

In response to research conducted in recent years, lawmakers in 17 different states have either begun seriously considering, fighting for or passing laws that ban text messaging while driving. While five states -- California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington -- have already enacted bans on using hand held phones while driving, only three states have enacted laws banning their citizens from text messaging while driving, according to the Governors' Highway Safety Association. Washington, Minnesota and New Jersey have paved the way for text messaging bans, according to the GHSA's Web site, but many believe the battle is nowhere near won.

Frank Drews, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah, took part in a research project that shows using a cell phone while driving increases your chances of an accident five-fold and can be even more dangerous than drunk driving.

"As a society, we have agreed on not tolerating the risk associated with drunk driving. This study shows us that somebody who is conversing on a cell phone is exposing him or herself and others to a similar risk Cell phones actually are a higher risk," Drews said.

The study consisted of 40 research subjects who were put through certain distractions while driving using a simulator. Some of the participants were on cell phones, others were at the legal alcohol limit of .08 and others were put through random and everyday distractions. As Drews explained, cell phones proved to be a much higher risk than the other distractions imposed on the subjects.

Another study conducted by Nationwide Insurance showed that an estimated 20 percent of drivers are sending or receiving text messages while driving. That number greatly increases to 66 percent when the age group of 18 to 24 is segregated. These numbers don't exactly match up to those of a Harris Interactive Poll conducted in August of 2007 which stated that 9 out of 10 American adults believe that sending text messages or e-mails while driving is "distracting, dangerous and should be outlawed."

Since the addition of the "texting" option on mobile phones in the early 1990s and even earlier with using numbers to spell out words on pagers in the late 1980s, text messaging has become a major part of communication in the 21st century. The New York Times reported a total of 158 billion text messages being sent in 2006 alone, doubling the total from 2005. As far as proof that cell phones cause car accidents, crash reports now include a line for troopers to record if a cell phone was in use at the time of the accident and AAA estimates almost half of the 6 million crashes in the country each year are caused by drivers who are distracted by cell phones.

The growing technological advances of cell phones to accommodate "texters" along with the growing number of high profile accidents proven to be caused by text messaging while driving, are what legislators cite as their reasons for pushing the urgent passing of the new laws.

Arkansas legislators have not taken the steps that neighboring state Tennessee has by collecting official crash data including crashes caused by cell phone use, but has taken more steps than other neighboring state Missouri which has not banned school bus drivers from using cell phones while on the job, according to the GHSAs Web site. Arkansas Senator Kim Hendron has been working to pass laws specifically aimed towards teenagers and cell phone use while driving.

"The cell phone is a good tool and a good thing to help with security,'' said Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette. "If you're going to do it, for heaven's sake, pull over to the side of the road and use it.''

Fourteen states have already passed laws regarding teenagers using cell phones while driving and Hendren's law would carry a possible $50 fine for second time offenders.

Many studies have been done to attempt to prove that text messaging and using a cell phone while driving is extremely dangerous, and states around the country seem to be noticing the dangers.

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