Is Texting While Driving Dangerous?

Is texting while driving dangerous?

Surprisingly, the issue of cell phone usage while driving is a divisive issue. Ask a crowded room how they feel about laws banning the use of handheld cell phones for calling, texting, or any other use, and you’re likely to split the room. On one hand, there are people who will always favor less legislation or “small government”. Those on the other side of the issue feel that it is sometimes the government’s duty to regulate issues related to safety. We’ve all used our phones at inappropriate times — in class, during a movie, and so on — but how many of us are willing to justify the use of a handheld cell phone while we’re driving?

Another study into the relative safety of handheld cell phone usage while driving was released this week. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute weighed in on the issue that is creating legislation from Texas to Maine. This study looked into texting specifically, leaving out any info on the dangers of talking on a cellphone. Not surprisingly, this study concludes much the same as similar inqueries that driving while texting on a cell phone or smartphone simply isn’t safe. In fact, according to the VTTI, texting makes a driver as much as 23 times more likely to be involved in a car crash than drivers who are not texting. Sure, some of you are reading this wondering why we needed yet another study to prove what seems obvious — but there are still plenty of people who gripe about anti cell phone laws. In my state, the fine for using a handheld cell phone while driving is $1,000 minimum. That’s enough to keep me from using my phone while the car’s in motion, and I’m guessing other drivers on the road feel the same way.

The report from Virginia Tech makes a conclusion that can’t be misinterpreted — driving while texting should be banned, everywhere, and that any cell phone use in cars should be banned for inexperienced drivers. Apparently, texting is more dangerous than talking, which seems obvious enough. Looking down at the screen and the keys while typing seems much more dangerous that simply holding a phone to your face and talking. But since this study didn’t look into cellphone chat, and instead focused on texting, it is difficult to fully buy into their conclusion.

Still, the Virginia Tech report comes less than a week after very similar conclusions were made in a report orchestrated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That report, which was a hefty 266 pages, came from information that was compiled 7 years ago, in late 2002. This information was kept out of the public’s hands until two as yet unknown consumer advocacy groups filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the information. The data recommends, without a doubt, that drivers should be banned from using cell phones in moving vehicles, and there’s a twist. While most states, including my own, allow hands free cell phone use, the study by the NHTSA suggests that even hands free listening devices are a dangerous distraction.

I’m going to tip my hand here — I hate cell phone use in cars. Has there ever been a study that proved that texting or talking on a cell phone improves your driving skills? Does it even make sense that adding yet another distraction to our vehicles (besides the radio, friends, fast food in your lap, etc) would have anything but a negative impact on one’s driving ability?

Put simply — driving while texting is a huge problem, especially for those of us in high traffic areas. This practice needs to be completely banned — to save lives and keep our insurance premiums down, etc.

Another suggestion of mine (and several advocacy groups) — young or inexperienced drivers are distracted enough without the addition of cell phones. I know when I first got my license, I was barely conscious of things around me, and it took a couple of years behind the wheel before I learned the confidence I now feel necessary to get on the road. In short, young drivers should be explicitly banned from using cell phones, maybe until the age of 21. Have you ever seen someone under the age of 21 that wasn’t completely consumed by their cellphone, PDA, or smartphone? If anyone needs an immediate ban on all cell phone use it is these inexperienced road warriors.

I wonder how many studies like those released just in the past week we need to learn about before we force our government to do something about the distraction of driving while texting?

Keep the roads safe for everyone — if you must send a text or make a call while you’re on the road, it won’t take but a few seconds to pull off, park the car, and get it done while you’re not hurtling down the highway.