When To Pay Attention — The Consequences of Distracted Driving

In 2010, 3092 people were killed in a crash involving a distracted driver. Distraction.gov reports that in June of 2011 more than 196 billion text messages were transmitted in the U.S. and what's even more alarming — 40% of American teens say they have used their cell phone while driving.

Texting while driving has become one of the most dangerous driving distractions on the road. Traffic crashes, involving both injuries and fatalities, are increasingly being caused in part by drivers using their cell phones to read or write a text message. Talking on a cell phone is equally dangerous, as statistics show that people who do this are four times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident. It has become apparent that these activities are detrimental to driving safety, and so should be reduced dramatically.

Drivers who have conversations while driving or who take their eyes off the road to send a text decrease their attention to the road, thereby reducing the ability to react to changes in traffic. These activities cause drivers to be distracted and divert mental resources away from driving, inhibiting full mental attention to the task.

A study by the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging found that talking and listening to a conversation while driving reduced the activity of part of the brain associated with spatial processing, meaning the amount of brain activity devoted to driving was disrupted and reduced with these concurrent distractions. Cell phone use requires drivers to take their mental attention from the road, and texting also causes both cognitive and visual distractions for drivers.

These distracted drivers are becoming increasingly dangerous to themselves and other drivers on the road. Yet many state lawmakers have yet to pass a law that affects texting or talking on a phone while driving.

The problem with a lack of laws against these activities is the message that it sends to drivers; that since it is not illegal to talk or text, then this must be safe or acceptable behavior. Quite the opposite is true. Although states like Florida have current legislation pending that would prohibit texting while driving, a widespread debate continues over the enforceability of these potential laws. Despite these concerns, public sentiment has become supportive of laws against texting while driving, as they would hold drivers accountable for their potentially dangerous actions in the case of a traffic crash.

A current anti-texting campaign launched by AT&T, "Texting and Driving 'IT Can Wait'", sends important messages to the public: that the dangers of texting while driving are serious and often have disturbing results. The commercials portray real-life stories of adolescents and adults who are currently dealing with traumatic brain injuries or the death of a loved one as consequences of either writing or reading a text while driving.

As the public is made aware of the dangers associated with these activities, it is hoped they can be reduced to make our commute safer. Cell phone use while driving is a danger to everyone on the roadways, and must be viewed as such by drivers and lawmakers alike. The consequences are distracting enough — it's time everyone paid attention.

SafeMotorist.com Driving Safety Articles:
This article was written by SafeMotorist.com defensive driving staff writers and reviewed for accuracy by defensive driving instructors. All articles are based on current traffic laws and defensive driving practices. This article is intended for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice or literal interpretation of any specific traffic law.