PING! Your cell phone sounds from your pocket or purse while you’re driving, and you’re tempted to check it. You might think that not much harm can come from a quick glance or two at your phone.
As it turns out, you’d be wrong.
Distracted driving—defined as engaging in activities that take your attention (like texting, talking on the phone, messing with the radio, setting up navigation, browsing the web, and even eating) while driving—injures about 391,000 people every year and kills more than 3,000.
Yet a shocking number of people drive distracted, typically by using their phones: a 2016 study done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that about 481,000 vehicles, at any given daylight moment, are being driven by someone on a phone (either hand-held or hands-free).
If using your phone while behind the wheel is so dangerous, why do so many people do it? Let’s look at why too many drivers are texting and what you can do to stay safe on the road.
Why People Text and Drive
There are a variety of factors behind Americans’ habit of texting (or otherwise using their phone) and driving. These factors include the myth of multi-tasking, poor risk assessment, and the habit-forming nature of phones themselves.
The Myth of Multi-tasking
A 2014 study done by AT&T found that more than 25 percent of drivers think that they can “easily do more than one thing at once, even while driving.”
The truth is that the brain is not very good at multi-tasking; in fact, the brain can’t multi-task at all. It actually just switches between tasks very quickly. If you try to do more than one activity at the same time, your performance in both activities suffers. For example, if you try to send a text message while driving, it will take you longer than normal to type out the message (and you might make more than a few spelling errors) and your driving ability will decline: you might go over or under the speed limit, you might swerve in your lane, and you might even hit another car or road obstacle.
If someone asked you to drive down the road with your eyes closed, you would never do it. Yet that’s essentially what happens if you send a text or adjust your GPS: you are blind to the road.
Humans are not very good at judging how risky a situation or behavior is. Case in point: many people are afraid of flying, but they get in their vehicles without a second thought. (The odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 114, while the odds of dying in a plane crash at 1 in 9,821.)
This means that people often underestimate the risk of distracted driving. After all, texting, talking on the phone, and using GPS are all daily activities that are perfectly safe by themselves; combined with driving, however, they can be deadly.
Just how dangerous is distracted driving, anyway? Here are a few eye-opening statistics:
- Sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds. At 55mph, your car will have travelled the length of a football field in that span of time.
- About 25 percent of all car crashes involve cell phone use.
- Using a cell phone makes you 4 times more likely to get in a car accident.
Many people are coming to understand the risk of texting and driving, opting instead to go hands-free with their cell phone. They believe that because they are not looking at their phone (visual distraction) or typing on their keypad (manual distraction), it is ok. Unfortunately, these well-meaning people are engaging in an activity just as risky.
Hands-free cell phone use is nearly as dangerous as the handheld variety because “cognitive distraction” still occurs with hands-free use. Cognitive distraction can cause “inattention blindness”—meaning that a driver can look at the objects on the road without actually seeing or processing that visual information. (As an example of just how badly this can go, one woman in Grand Rapids, Michigan caused a fatal accident after running a red light while simply talking on her cell phone.)
Phones as Slot Machines
Can cell phones be addictive? It’s a question that is increasingly studied as concern grows over the role cell phones play in our lives. (Several studies have found that cell phone use activates the same reward circuits in the brain as addictive substances.)
At the very least, there’s no doubt that cell phone applications are designed to grab and hold our attention. Think of the constant alerts of text messages and GPS notifications. Then there’s the endlessly refreshing feeds on news sites and social media applications.
The sound of your cell phone is like a siren song: it’s hard to resist. It might even make you feel anxious to ignore. (In the AT&T survey mentioned above, 28 percent of drivers said they worried they would miss something important if they failed to check their phones.) If this sounds like you, it’s important to learn how to break the habit—so you don’t let FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) put your life in danger.
What You Can Do to Stay Safe on the Road
The best thing you can do to stay safe on the road is to pay attention at all times. Put your phone away; if you find yourself tempted to use it, consider installing an anti-distraction app like DriveMode. (This app turns on when your car reaches 15mph and silences text alerts and phone calls while maintaining access to your GPS.) Also try your best to reduce or eliminate other distractions: set your destination in your GPS before leaving your driveway, eat while you are parked, and change radio stations only while you are stopped.
Still, you can be the most attentive driver on the road and get into a car accident. Other drivers on the road might be texting, talking on the phone, or just simply not paying attention. It’s a good idea to drive defensively and watch out for the following driver behaviors that might indicate distraction:
- The car is swerving in it’s lane for no apparent reason.
- The car is failing to keep up with traffic (like by staying stopped at a green light, riding the brakes, or speeding up and slowing down at random).
- The driver is looking down at his or her lap or is holding a phone to his or her ear.
If are injured or if a loved one was killed in an accident caused by a distracted driver, you may want to hold the driver accountable for his or her negligence.
Casper & Casper is here to help. Contact us to talk to our experienced and compassionate personal injury attorneys. We will listen to you, discuss your case, and let you know your options. Call us today.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Psychology Today: The Myth of Multitasking
Psychology Today: Why Are People Bad at Evaluating Risks?
National Safety Council