Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls cell phone use, including texting, while driving "a national epidemic." Statistics support his warning.
Consider these numbers:
- The No.1 source of driver inattention is use of a wireless device. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute/National Highway Transportation Administration).
- At any given moment during daylight hours, more than 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone (U.S. Department of Transportation).
- In 2011, the National Safety Council estimated use of cell phones while driving caused 1.3 million accidents. Cell phone-related crashes kill thousands each year, according to a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study.
- A texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a nontexting driver (VTTI).
- Some 58 percent of high school seniors and 43 percent of high school juniors said they have texted or emailed while driving during the last month, according to the results of a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of 15,000 public and private high school students across the nation. According to a HealthDay poll in November 2011, 37 percent of all drivers have sent or received text messages while driving and 18 percent said they do so regularly.
- Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent at 55 mph of driving the length of an entire football field ... blind, according to VTTI. According to the University of Utah, distraction from cell phone use while driving extends a driver's reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol-content level of 0.08 percent.
We could go on, but you get the point. Or, you should get the point.
Given the sheer number of Americans who own them, the problem of wireless device use while driving may have surpassed drinking and driving as the biggest danger on our roads and highways today. According to a 2010 survey by The Wireless Association, 91 percent of Americans use cell phones; in June 2011, the association said, 196 billion text messages were sent or received by Americans, a 50 percent increase in two years.
It's time for society to apply the same sense of purpose to the goal of reducing cell phone use while driving as we have in reducing drunken driving, which declined 30 percent between its peak in 2006 and 2011.
Clearly and accordingly, the issue is getting increased attention. The federal Department of Transportation (www.distraction.gov) and most state governments have enhanced and strengthened efforts to keep drivers from using wireless devices, particularly to text, while driving (Iowa is one of 39 states which have banned texting and driving). If as a parent, you recently sent a son or daughter through a local driver education class, you know the emphasis these instructors put on preventing cell phone use while driving.
In even more high-profile fashion, efforts to educate and warn drivers (particularly young, beginning drivers) about the dangers of using a wireless device while driving must continue. The private sector must partner with the public sector to spread and reinforce this message. All states should ban texting while driving and make sure penalties provide proper punishment and deterrent.
No amount of focus on and discussion of this issue is too much.
Finally, Americans collectively must embrace the message, heed the warnings and adopt a mindset through which cell phone use while driving is considered no different than drinking and driving.
Turn off the cell phone or place the phone out of your reach while driving. If you must make a call or send a text, pull off the road. Parents, set the proper example for your teen drivers. Don't call or text while you are driving and don't call or text your teen at times when you know they are behind the wheel.
We're all out there on our roads together. Let's all do our part to make them as safe as we can.