Texting while driving is worse than driving drunk, so why no equivalent social stigma?

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Nobody likes to be a snitch, but if a friend or acquaintance insisted on driving while impaired by alcohol, would you report them to police? Many of us would, out of concern for the drunk driver’s safety and that of others. And we would be right to do so; drunk driving endangers lives.

However, if you agree with pre-emptive intervention in the instance of drunk drivers, consider this; talking on a phone while driving—even using hands-free units—increases crash risk fourfold, according to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). A study from the University of Utah at Salt Lake City shows that talking on a cellphone while driving is significantly more dangerous than chatting with passengers—possibly because drivers feel more comfortable pausing a conversation with a passenger when road conditions warrant than pausing a phone conversation, since a person in the vehicle will understand why the pauses are occurring, while someone at the other end of an electronic connection will not.

Texting while driving

The Daily Mail reports that a U.K. Transport Research Laboratory study found that sending a text slows reaction time by 37%. Using cannabis delayed it 21%, and drinking to the U.K. legal limit, 13%. Speaking on a phone slowed it by 46%.

And while 4x increased crash risk (or worse; see immediately above) with cellphone gabbing drivers is plenty bad enough, texting while driving (TWD) raises the risk ante by factors of some 6x to 20x (depending on whose metrics)—as much danger as driving over the legal alcohol blood concentration limit—making TWD demonstrably the most pernicious of a variety of distempers afflicting our culture as a consequence of pandemic cellphone addiction.

Texting while driving

This month, results of 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey commissioned by the Ontario, Canada Centre for Addiction and Mental Health were released, with data collected from more than 10,000 middle and high school students through anonymous questionnaires. The results indicated that more than one-third of licensed Ontario middle and high school students—approximately 108,000 teens—admitted to having texted while driving at least once in the previous year, and among supposedly older and wiser Grade 12 students, the metric was 46% copping to texting while driving during the year. Other research metrics indicate that distracted drivers now kill more people in Ontario than do drunks, and a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study found that texting in cars and trucks causes over 3,300 deaths and 421,000 injuries per year (2012) in the U.S. According to the NHTSA, at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a metric that has held steady since 2010.

A University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study found that a mind-boggling 25% of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive, and an even more appalling 20% of teens and even 10% of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

In response to the teen survey findings, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne pledged to reintroduce legislation that would bring the hammer down on all species of distracted driving, with fines of up to $1,000 plus three driver’s license demerit points.

Logic would dictate that if people driving drunk outrages you, to be consistent, driving while cellphone gabbing and driving while texting should outrage you 4x and 6x-20x more respectively. Persons who stubbornly insist on reading and sending text messages while driving are “significantly more impaired” than those who drive above minimum legal limit for alcohol, according to a British study conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory for the Royal Automobile Club Foundation that showed drivers’ reaction times deteriorated by 35%, with a 91 % decrease in steering ability. Similar studies of drunk driving, by comparison, showed reaction times falling by a relatively less drastic 12%.

Texting while driving

Interestingly, while drinking and driving is nowadays pretty consensually regarded as wholly inappropriate, texting while driving—somewhat bizarrely, given the actuarial research findings about relative risk—hasn’t yet fallen under a proportionally similar and consistent social stigma, according to Prof. Stephen Glaister, director of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation. Would you knowingly travel in a car with a driver you know is drunk? If (presumably) not, then why would you consider being a passenger with someone who chats on cellphones and/or texts behind the wheel, when the danger with the latter behaviors is exponentially greater? Think about it.

Data compiled by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) show 85% of all auto crashes and 65% of all near-crashes result from distracted driving.

And, of course, it’s not only teens who engage in this irresponsible and dangerous behavior, despite the fact that texting while driving is illegal in all Canadian provinces and 44 of the 50 U.S. states, plus D.C. Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the Centers for Disease Control, automobile accidents are now the leading cause of death in women under the age of 35—a particularly cellphone-prolific, texting-oriented demographic. Reuters reported that while 83% of respondents surveyed nationwide said texting while driving should be illegal, one-quarter of U.S. cellphone users of all ages admit to texting while driving.

Texting while driving

Just stop it, folks, OK? Like, right now. There’s no wiggle-room; no excuses are acceptable. Texting while driving carries a strong likelihood of making you a killer, and/or ending up dead yourself.

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  • William Bennett

    The Wheel Watcher is not a “soft attempt ” at addressing the problem. A hardware tool that prevents distractions and promotes 2 hand driving when over a pre set speed