The Problem of Distracted Driving, a Menace on Our Roads

Over the years, we’ve been conditioned to believe that drunk driving is the worst thing anyone can do when operating a motor vehicle. Well, just as technology has overtaken most aspects of our modern life, it’s also beginning to overtake alcohol as a leading cause of auto accidents.
The rising use of gadgets such as GPS systems, iPods and, most especially, cell phones, has given rise to what’s been called a deadly epidemic of “distracted driving,” according to a recent article in “The Christian Science Monitor.”
While only one in seven auto accidents are officially attributed to distracted driving, statistics are very misleading in this particular area. Unlike drunk driving, where the driver’s level of inebriation can be measured after the fact, many “distracted drivers” don’t tell the truth about what they’re doing when the auto accident happened, to avoid any kind of wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits – and there’s usually no way to be sure what activity they were engaged in.
What is clear is that distracted driving – particularly by teens who are texting while driving (73% of teenagers admit to the dangerous practice) – is growing as a national issue, with more and more legislation being passed in various states and communities against cell phone usage while driving.
Studies all over the world show that almost all drivers are four times more likely to have an auto or motorcycle accident while distracted by gadgets. And for anyone texting while driving at 55 mph, it’s the equivalent of driving the distance of a football field with their eyes closed!
There are always going to be distractions,” says David Teater, who serves as senior director of transportation strategic initiatives at the National Safety Council. “But the advent of mobile electronic communication devices has really changed the game … we’ve been talking on the phone for 80 years. We’ve been driving 100 years. It’s only recently that we’ve tried to combine the two.” Teater has an unfortunate firsthand knowledge of the subject – his 12 year-old son was killed in a wrongful death auto accident caused by a driver using a cell phone.
And for those of you who believe using a hands-free headset instead of the actual cell phone is the answer, that is simply not the case. Scientists at the University of Utah’s Applied Cognition Laboratory, using a virtual driving simulator, have proven that headset users are at as much a risk of an auto accident as the cell phone user. The real disruption, phone up to ear or no, occurs in the driver’s head – because it’s a cognitive process that takes them out of their driving space and into a virtual one removed from the road.
“We record brain activity,” says Professor David Strayer, “and we can show that it’s suppressed from the cell phone conversation.” And, of course, if a cell phone text or conversation causes a serious enough auto accident, that brain activity will be suppressed forever.