Texting Behind the Wheel: It’s Not Just for Kids Anymore
It seems that teens aren’t the only ones texting while driving. A recent survey released by AT&T found that almost half (49 percent) of adult drivers admitted to sending texts while driving, compared to only 43 percent of teen drivers.
Shockingly, almost all of the adults surveyed – 98 percent – said they know that texting behind the wheel is dangerous. Sixty percent of those surveyed said that as of three years ago, they never texted while driving, meaning that not only is the practice widespread among adults, but that it may be increasing despite a number of recent laws that ban texting and handheld devices behind the wheel.
In 2011, 3,331 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver, an increase from 3,267 in 2010, according to the Department of Transportation. These numbers are alarming, especially given the efforts that have been made to ban it.
Causes of Texting While Driving
So why would a driver who knows how dangerous it is to send texts and emails from behind the wheel continue to do so?
The answers are complicated.
Dr. Moez Limayem, a University of South Florida researcher, dug into this issue when a friend died while texting and driving. His report revealed that although society sees texting as an addiction, people who consistently text while driving display behaviors more indicative of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They can’t stop.
People feel the need to be constantly available to work, friends and family via text and email. There’s an expectation that they be responsive 24/7. Some are anxious or afraid they’re going to miss something, or that they won’t be able to respond to something quickly enough.
Limayem said that by making texting behind the wheel illegal, drivers are now actively hiding that they’re doing it by holding the phone below the steering wheel so as not be seen by law enforcement. This puts drivers in an even more distracted position and could explain some of the higher crash statistics from 2010 to 2011 despite widespread educational campaigns and government bans.
Some drivers may try to justify texting while driving by noting that the conditions are manageable to handle another task.
But other recent reports on the issue indicate that texting while driving at any speed – even while driving slowly or in optimal conditions – is just as dangerous and distracting.
Texting Behind the Wheel: ‘Perfect Storm of Risk’
In the words of the Drexel University researcher who conducted the experiments, “text messaging may constitute a ‘perfect storm’ of risk.” Even under the most ideal circumstances – such as slow speed, familiar route, little or no traffic and good weather – texting affected driving adversely, specifically in terms of lane and speed maintenance.
So what can we do to reduce the number of accidents caused by texting while driving?
Currently, 10 states have banned using a handheld device while driving, and 39 states have bans on texting while driving. There are also bans specifically aimed at teen drivers. But what else can we do?
Limayem suggested that because being available for work-related communication is part of the problem, businesses should take it on themselves to educate their employees about the dangers of texting while driving. It’s important for organizations to speak to their employees about work-related communication, when it’s appropriate to send email and text communication and to never text while on the road.
AT&T urges a similar plan with its It Can Wait campaign, which encourages drivers not to text while driving. More than 165 organizations have signed on to the It Can Wait campaign, an AT&T spokesman said.
— By Adrienne Ziegler
Known to her friends and colleagues as “Dree,” Adrienne Ziegler is a self-proclaimed nerd who wants to try everything once. She works for a technology company in Ann Arbor, Michigan and enjoys hiking, running, kayaking, throwing music events and artsy-crafty stuff.