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Words Can Kill: The Dangers of Texting and Driving

Modern communications technology offers many advantages for people around the world. Devices like smartphones have helped people to be more connected than ever before, with voice calls, video conferencing, and text messages providing a range of options for communicating from almost anywhere. While most would argue that this advance has been a positive development for society, there are also obvious risks and dangers involved as well. For example, drivers who are distracted while reading or composing texts pose a threat not only to their own safety, but to the safety of others on the road as well. Sadly, far too many people are failing to heed the very real dangers of texting and driving.

A Pervasive Problem

The problem of texting and driving is by no means minor. According to the National Safety Council, this is a serious issue that has dire consequences for the individuals involved and society as a whole. In 2013, an estimated 341,000 vehicular crashes were directly or indirectly caused by text messaging. That’s fully six percent of all crashes for that year, and each and every one of them was entirely preventable.

That number shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course. According to information compiled by the CDC, roughly a third of all American drivers between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four admit that they have either composed or viewed a text message or email on their phones while driving within the past month. That’s roughly double the number of UK drivers who have engaged in the same risky behavior. As a result, some estimates suggest that the odds of a smartphone or other cell phone being a contributing cause in any given vehicular accident are roughly one-in-four.

What makes this situation even more tragic is that drivers seem to understand that this behavior is inherently dangerous. In fact, in an AT&T survey from several years ago, 98% of surveyed drivers admitted that they know that any form of distracted driving is dangerous. Despite that awareness, almost half of surveyed adults admit that they text and drive – a number even higher than the estimates provided by the Centers for Disease Control.

Why it’s Risky

It is critical to understand why this behavior is so dangerous. In truth, efforts to prevent texting and driving can only be successful when more people begin to grasp the actual facts that explain why it is so risky. For example, the National Safety Council’s study on this phenomenon indicates that using a phone in any way while driving can quadruple the risk of an accident occurring. Even seemingly minor use – such as clicking a button or briefly glancing to see who sent you that text – can result in a catastrophe.

According to one study, drivers can only safely take their eyes away from the road for a maximum of 2 seconds without increasing the risk of a crash. That might not seem like a problem until you take into consideration the fact that most drivers who text while behind the wheel of the car end up being distracted for an average of more than four and a half seconds for each text. In other words, the average amount of time that texting drivers end up being distracted is more than twice the maximum safe limit.

Attempts to Curb the Problem

In recent years, efforts to curb this dangerous trend have taken two main paths: education through public awareness programs, and legislative action and police enforcement to deter those who continue to engage in this behavior. As a result of many debates and nationwide campaigns against the scourge of distracted drawing, all fifty states and the District of Columbia now have some form of restrictions in place on text messaging while driving.

There is a legal ban in place on all texting and driving for drivers in 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories. In addition, 37 states also ban all cell phone use for teen drivers, and 14 states have legislated bans on any use of hand-held phones for all drivers. 2 States merely ban teenage and inexperienced drivers from texting while they are driving, and another 3 states extend that ban to school bus drivers as well.

In Texas, the legislation is complex but contains no general ban on texting for drivers. School bus operators are not allowed to text when they have minors on board, and when they are in school crossing zones. First-year drivers are banned from texting as well. In Corpus Christi, the city has enacted a Hands Free Driving law that was adopted back in October of 2013. Using your cell phone to make a call, send a text, or use an app while driving will cost you up to $500. There are exceptions; you’re allowed to use your phone if you are using it through either a built-in system with your car or with Bluetooth or other wireless systems. You can also use your phone if you are making an emergency call (e.g. 9-1-1, a hospital, or health clinic).

What You Can Do

You may be wondering what you can do to protect yourself against this risk. If you are driving, the answer is simple: leave your cell phone alone at all times. That can be accomplished through a variety of means, including simply turning it off or silencing it. You can also help yourself resist temptation by simply putting it somewhere inaccessible. There are even apps for Android and Apple phones that simply turn off texting capabilities while you are driving.

Of course, if you’re a parent of a teen driver or a passenger in someone else’s car, your worries are much more severe than the need to simply exercise self-control. With your kids, it is important to talk to them about texting and driving – and other forms of distracted driving, for that matter. Set an example for them by remaining steadfast in your own refusal to use your phone while you are behind the wheel of your vehicle. If you’re a passenger, speak up and express your concerns about any driver who is reaching for his or her phone while barreling down the road. Gently but firmly suggest that he or she pull over and stop the vehicle if a call or text must be dealt with immediately.

The fact is that it only takes a mere handful of seconds for disaster to strike any driver. In that time, you and others around you could suffer serious injury or even death due to something as simple as a text message distraction. The good news is that this is a preventable risk for all who recognize the danger it presents.