The Danger of Texting While Driving
Governments move against distracted driving
In 2011, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that bans texting while driving statewide. (ZUMA Press/Newscom)
The U.S. Department of Transportation is cracking down on distracted driving—especially texting behind the wheel. Currently, 44 states ban texting while driving. The Department’s new effort encourages the remaining six states to create and pass similar bans. The plan also challenges automakers to build cars with fewer technological distractions on the dashboard.
What’s the problem with texting while driving? One study found that each text took a driver’s focus away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that’s long enough for a car to travel the length of a football field.
The problem is especially bad among young people, and texting is a major factor. Drivers age 25 and under are two to three times more likely than older drivers to send text messages or e-mails while driving.
“Young people think that they’re invincible,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “They think that nothing can happen to them. And we know the statistics don’t bear that out.”
In 2010, nearly 3,100 people in the United States were killed in crashes in which drivers were distracted. Thousands more were injured or disabled for life.
But not everyone believes that tough new laws are enough. One North Carolina study found that texting while driving actually increased after the state passed a law against it. “There’s no indication that teens abide by the laws once they’re implemented," says Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
That is why the Department of Transportation is funding programs in California and Delaware to test the impact of increased law enforcement coupled with educational campaigns aimed at distracted driving. The ad campaigns will be based on “Click It or Ticket” programs that have helped boost seat-belt use.
LaHood believes that education is the key to ending distracted driving. “We need to teach kids, who are the most vulnerable drivers, that texting and driving don’t mix,” he says.