Texting and driving a deadly combination

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, November 24th, 2012

You’ve heard of “driving while intoxicated.” Now there’s a new term: “driving while intexticated.”

Using a handheld electronic device while driving has become a major cause of teen driver distraction, causing vehicle crashes.

An American Automobile Association survey found that while 92 per cent of teens disapproved of texting while driving, 25 per cent admitted doing it.

In the AAA phone survey of public perception, texting and cellphone use were more of a concern than impaired driving. In third place was drowsy driving, while aggressive driving came fourth.

At the recent annual meeting of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas in Savannah, Georgia, I learned the average teen sends 3,300 text messages each month. I was astounded by that figure. Asked to guess the number at a workshop on teen texting and driving, my estimate was about half that.

There are all sorts of sta-istics to show the disas-rous results of using cell-hones while driving.

There is a 400 per cent increase in the risk of a crash when drivers use a handheld electronic device. Drivers take their eyes off the road 400 per cent more when they’re using such devices. The reaction time of a driver using a handheld device is slower than that of a driver impaired by alcohol.

In an AAA demonstration, teens were asked to drive a course bound by construction cones. After a trial run, they attempted the same task while texting. They hit an average of five times as many cones. They were asked to text a certain message while driving the course, namely, “How about dinner tonight?” The best effort yielded the following: “Hoo toboo touhigntto?” The AAA staff members were challenged by the teens to do the same task.

They did not fare any better.

Strangely, slower drivers sent fewer text messages while driving the cone-bound course. Predictably, the more texts sent, the more cones were hit.

The majority of drivers who die in crashes while texting are under 25.

There is absolutely no difference in the crash rate for handheld or hands-free cellphone users. The cognitive distraction seems to be the sole determining factor in the crash-rate increase.

Whether the driver has one or two hands on the steering wheel is relatively inconsequential.

There was another statistic that really shocked me. In virtually every jurisdiction of the U.S. that has made using a handheld electronic device a traffic offence, crashes increased by about 25 per cent in the first year. Drivers were trying to hide their behaviour and had a tendency to hold the phone out of view, usually on their laps, dropping their eyes from the road in the process. The average “eyes off the road” duration was four to five seconds, about twice as long as in normal operation of a vehicle by a distracted driver.

Upon arrival in Savannah, I drove my rental car from the airport to the convention centre. I noticed a large overhead highway sign that read: “999 killed on our roads year-to-date in our state.” When I made the trip back to the Savannah airport four days later, the same sign read “1003.”

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Associated Driving Schools of the Americas and a registered B.C. teacher.

stevedwallace@shaw.ca

 

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