Hang up the phone and drive

The most dangerous thing that most of us do on a daily basis is get behind the wheel and drive. Not only do we have to watch out for our own driving, we have to watch for other drivers out there. Yet many of us make the task harder by knowingly distracting ourselves by talking on the phone.

I’ve read a few articles over the past few weeks and listened to a few interviews that impressed on me that talking on the phone, regardless of using a hands free device, is incredibly dangerous and needs to be stopped. Most of us know this, yet many of us do it.

I’ve often thought of the time in the car as wasted time, using that time to call clients or to catch up with friends. My car has a bluetooth system that Ford offers called Microsoft Sync,  it allows me to hands free dial and talk through the stereo system without having a phone to my ear. But it’s not the act of having a phone by your ear that’s dangerous, it’s the lack of focus. A few years ago I was on the phone with a friend I hadn’t talked to in awhile; I had my headset on, no big deal right? I drove past my exit on the turnpike and ended up being late to my client meeting. I’ve heard the term inattention blindness used a lot – this is what happens, people have their eyes straight ahead, but they see nothing; they’re minds are on the phone and their minds are elsewhere. You may ask why is driving a car with a passenger any different? Studies have found having an adult passenger in the car actually makes you a safer driver.

Local governments seem to be doing little about it. Pennsylvania debated a cell phone bill this year, but it was voted down because lawmakers thought it would infringe on civil liberties. Some states have made talking on the phone a secondary driving offense, meaning you can’t be stopped for it, but if you’re stopped for something else, you’ll receive a ticket. Secondary offense status is essentially useless except for politicians who want to say they’ve done something. What bothers me is the lack of education on the subject. I believe that this could be attacked the same way that wearing seat belts or drunk driving was. Education won’t stop everyone, but it would cut down the accidents and fatalities.

Here are some facts I found from Nationwide’s website:

  • Distraction from cell phone use while driving (hand held or hands free) extends a driver’s reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08%. (University of Utah)
  • The No.1 source of driver inattention is use of a wireless device. (Virginia Tech /NHTSA)
  • Drivers that use cell phones are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (NHTSA, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
  • 10% of drivers aged 16 to 24 years old are on their phone at any one time.
  • Driving while distracted is a factor in 25% of police reported crashes.
  • Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%. (Carnegie Mellon)
  • Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year (Human Factors and Ergonomics Society)

Since many people don’t readily admit they were on a cell phone during an accident, these numbers may be higher.

Here are some things that you can do:

  • Don’t call someone that you know is in the car – it can be hard to resist the urge to pick up a ringing phone, everyone thinks it might be an emergency. Make it easier for them
  • If you call someone and you realize they’re in the car, cut the conversation short
  • If you have to talk while driving, keep your conversations short
  • Put your phone in airplane mode while driving
  • Whatever you do, don’t text while driving – the statistics (and common sense) say that texting is worse than talking
  • Pass this post onto as many people as you can

I know everyone thinks “not me, I’m a great driver and talking and driving doesn’t affect me”. A lot of people think that – I’m an excellent driver – one accident in almost 25 years of driving. I’m doing this because there are so many bad drivers out there, and drivers talking and driving, I need 100% of my attention on the road. You do too.

More information:

  • http://www.cynicsgirl.blogspot.com Cyn

    Nicely done, Spencer. I take driving way too seriously myself…but that’s what comes with having your first car totalled by a drunk driver, followed by 20+ years of talking about accidents for a living. I think it would be difficult to implement an across-the-board ban, but the self-policing stuff you’ve suggested, like limiting conversations, is great advice — things people should take to heart.
    .-= Cyn´s last blog ..After A Long Hiatus =-.

  • Melissa Walter

    Thank you Spencer. Very well written. I agree completely.

  • grace

    As a motorcyclist, vehicle driver behavior is especially important to me. I really wish people would stop talking and texting while driving. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Spencer

    Here’s the thing – talking and driving is one of those things that everyone agrees is dangerous and needs to stop – yet a lot of people seem to do it.

    Where’s the disconnect?

  • http://www.svrspy.blogspot.com scarlet

    Lots of other distractions going on, too. satellite radios and GPS, etc. I can’t believe how many people I see READING BOOKS/NEWSPAPERS while driving. Wtf?
    .-= scarlet´s last blog ..Ruiner =-.

  • grace

    I think the disconnect is in fact that many people DON’T believe that it’s dangerous. Or they have convinced themselves that they are somehow especially capable and so the distraction factor doesn’t apply to them. Or… you know… just this ONE TIME won’t kill anyone… Another thing is when you’re in your car, alone, there’s no one around to see you misbehave so you allow yourself to do all sorts of bad behaviors.

    Cell phones are still relatively new to most people and I hope that as we all mature as cell phone owners that better etiquette and more responsible ownership behaviors become the norm.