Driving Distracted, the Real Cost

We’ve all seen people doing things that take their focus off the road: texting, making phone calls, working on laptops, and even brushing their teeth. Maybe you’ve done some of those things. Maybe seeing other people do those things makes you nervous behind the wheel or as a pedestrian. Maybe seeing other people do those things makes you nervous, but you still have some of the same habits. It seems harmless, taking one hand off the wheel just for a second to send a quick text like “be there in 10” while you swiftly shift your gaze from road to phone, right?

But what is the real cost of distracted driving?

Recent studies show that there are more road fatalities each year caused by distracted driving than drunk driving. Distracted driving causes the same impairments (decreased focus and reaction time, for example) as drunk driving.

1,200 people are injured daily in crashes involving distracted drivers. Distracted drivers cause 15 deaths every day.

It’s statistics like these that have caused states to ban everything from talking on a cell phone to eating in the driver’s seat. Rhode Island is even looking to pass a law that bans dogs from sitting on the driver’s lap.

It’s a tough topic – at what point do regulations move from protecting our safety to invading our personal habits?

Driving distracted

But, does it matter how far they go if these regulations protect our safety?

A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Cognitive Brain imaging shows that brain space for driving decreases by 40% when we listen to music. I almost always listen to music while driving, as most of us do. So, is it time to ban car radios or is that going too far?

You’re four times more likely to get into a car crash if you’re on your cell phone, even if you have a hands-free device.

There are many groups out there working against distracted driving. There’s even an anti-texting and driving app. The app, called Drive Safe Mode, works in conjunction with the GPS technology in your smart phone. When your phone is moving, the app will freeze your screen except for emergency numbers like 911. Of course, the app can’t tell if you’re the driver or not, so it does allow you to unfreeze the screen for a certain amount of time before returning to a frozen state if the car is still moving.

The DOT is hitting drivers early with programs for teens. They’ve recently asked teens to create a social media icon that the DOT will be able to use in it’s campaign against distracted driving. Entrants have until July 31st to submit an icon that clearly shows that cell phones and driving are a bad combination.

With all the new studies, it is increasingly difficult to argue that cell phones don’t impact our ability to drive. As a pedestrian, I’ve noticed that the majority of the time people who don’t see me in the crosswalk have a cell phone in hand.

But, I’m still going to ask, what do you think of laws banning everything from cell phones to food to dogs in the driver’s seat?