At any given moment approximately 660,000 drivers attempt to use their phones while behind the wheel . The reason behind this high rate is due in part to the theory that responding to a text does not seem as dangerous as driving under the influence. The fact is that statistics for both are around the same levels and the majority of automobile accidents in the last five years have been due to cell phone use behind the wheel. In recent years using your phone while driving has received more attention and admonishment, but the dangers of distracted driving are still very real and the statistics quite staggering.
Taking a look at car accidents connected to technology puts into perspective the dangers of using your phone while driving. If you’re going 55 miles per hour and you take just five seconds to check your phone you would have roughly covered the distance of a football field . Think about all the potential things that can go wrong in such a large span of space. The National Safety Council reported that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year . In 2015 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle accidents due to the use of cell phones and distracted drivers. Attention was drawn to phone use while driving because of the shocking amount of fatalities. This attention created a turning point in 2016 where the death rates dropped by 2.2 percent. The good news is that 94% of drivers in the U.S. support a ban on texting while driving. Unfortunately supporting any ban and acknowledging the danger do not mean that drivers are avoiding their phones behind the wheel. An AAA poll revealed that 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving but 35% admitted to doing it anyway .
There are laws against phone use while driving in the United States, but they, unfortunately, do not apply to all drivers and many don’t limit the complete use of cellphones. In 2016, there wasn’t a national ban on texting and driving . Now there are bans in 16 states on, handheld cell phone use, but no state bans all cell phone use for all drivers. The bans don’t include drivers who are above the age of 21 or have been driving for less than two years. Only 21 states and D.C. prohibit any cell phone use for school bus drivers . This is a shocking fact as if anyone should be avoiding distractions it’s someone carrying a bus full of children. There are 47 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands that have banned text messaging for all drivers and Missouri prohibits text messaging by novice or teen drivers. This means that drivers above the age of 21 are still allowed to text and drive in Missouri. Although laws can be powerful the unfortunate reality is that people break laws, especially when there aren’t serious repercussions. If you take driving under the influence as an example, almost 29 people die daily at the hands of drunk driving , although the laws against it are much more serious than those pertaining to texting and driving. There’s acknowledgment and awareness of the dangers but the “it won’t happen to me” mind frame hinders real action and prevention.
As a passenger, you do have a say and there are steps you can take to prevent the driver from texting. Whether it’s a friend, a family member, or a cab/Uber, don’t feel embarrassed to protect your safety. My mother has always been vocal about driving safety (as most mothers are), and I’ll never forget her telling off cab drivers for speaking on the phone or texting. It used to really embarrass me, but once I understood the dangers of a distracted driver I understood her exclamations. I don’t have a driver’s license but I have made it a rule that my life is more important than being embarrassed or getting behind the wheel with someone who isn’t putting safety first. I have many a time paid for a cab over getting in a car with a drunk driver and have slowly picked up my mom’s antics of telling people off for using their handhelds. Yes, I am an extremely annoying passenger, but I’ve never been in an accident.
Awareness about the danger of texting and driving has been amped up since 2015 and fatal statistics have gone down. Although there is still work to be done organizations that are committed to the prevention of handheld related driving accidents including exist. End Distracted Driving (EndDD) and Drop it and Drive (DIAD) both have websites are chock full of tips on prevention, statistics, and helpful information aimed at reducing cell phone related road accidents. DIAD holds presentations and seminars at school specifically directed at a younger generation. The seminars are customized to the region and use real examples of accidents caused by the use of cell phones.
Companies that aren’t designed to bring awareness to the dangers of texting and driving have also made efforts to reach the younger generation. In 2016 The Ad Council partnered with Snapchat to create a featured “Don’t Snap and Drive” filter. Snapchat also has as an alert on the MPH filter urging you not to use the app while moving at high speeds.
No matter what, that text can wait and if you really feel the need to respond: pull over. In an age of increasing use of technology, it is important that we do not use our handheld devices in moments that could jeopardize our lives.
Written by Delfina Forstmann