Distracted Driving: The Dangers of Mobile Texting and Phone Calls
One reason car safety experts are wary of the new efforts by Ford and other car manufacturers to make Twitter and other online services part of the driving experience is that cell phone use while driving is still a rampant problem that has yet to be addressed.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently called text messaging while driving an "epidemic" and said he would support a federal ban against it.
Earlier this month, LaHood unveiled sample legislation to be used as a "starting point for crafting new laws to prohibit texting while behind-the-wheel, the latest step in the campaign against distracted driving."
The sample state law would authorize law enforcement officers to stop a vehicle and issue a citation to drivers who are texting while driving.
"Texting while driving, like talking on cell phones while driving, is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening practice," said Secretary LaHood. “This language, which we created with a variety of safety organizations, is another powerful tool in our arsenal to help the states combat this serious threat.”
In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which LaHood is in charge of, recently launched a website, www.distraction.gov, to educate the public about how dangerous the behavior is.
"At the U.S. Department of Transportation, we heard America’s call to end the dangerous practice of distracted driving on our nation’s roadways," a statement on the Web site reads. "Distracted driving is a serious, life-threatening practice and we will not rest until we stop it."
The Web site cites several university studies that show, among other things, that using a cell phone while driving delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent, and that driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.
A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Utah that involved a driving simulator showed that people who talk on their cell phones while driving are as impaired as drunk drivers. In fact, text-messaging drivers may be even more dangerous: While some of the participants crashed their virtual vehicles while sober and chatting, none of them crashed while drunk.
Texting while driving can also increase the likelihood of running over and killing pedestrians, a 2009 study by the same team found. That research, which involved 21 teens and a driving simulator, found that texting while driving or even fiddling with music players while driving increased "lane position deviation" and rapid changes in speed.
David Strayer is a cognitive scientist at the University of Utah who was involved in the studies.
"We're just starting to see the trend lines," Strayer told TechNewsDaily.
"For teens over the last 20 years, [alcohol related] fatal accidents have dropped by about 60 percent. In that same amount of time other fatal crashes for teens have gone up by about 35 percent, so that now, distracted driving and other things that are non-alcohol related are eclipsing the total numbers of fatalities that you see with alcohol. We've just traded drunk driving for distracted driving."