Blog Post

The Trouble with Texting

Would you drive blindfolded?  How would you feel if you were a passenger in a car where the driver is blindfolded?  Most people would say that driving blind is absurd, yet they would not hesitate to look down at their phone to text or send an email.  When you think about it, it’s actually the same thing.  According to the Department of Transportation, it takes approximate 4.6 seconds to send a text.  In that time, at 55 mph, you have driven the entire length of a football field WITHOUT LOOKING.  What if another car does something unexpected?  What if a pedestrian walks out into the street?  What if the road veers up ahead?  You won’t know, until you feel the CRASH.

Last year, 3,331 people were killed in crashes due to distracted driving.  Another 387,000 were injured.  Clearly, distracted driving is a pervasive problem in today’s society, but people seem largely uninterested in doing anything about it.  Why is that?  Basically, anything that takes your mind off of the road, even for a second:  eating, drinking, grooming, texting, etc., makes you a distracted driver.  When you stop looking at the road and start looking at something else, your mind wanders and you are unable to fully appreciate the risks of the road.  Although the DOT survey reports that most younger drivers have texted while driving, the very same people feel uncomfortable when the driver of a car that they are in is texting.  But why is it okay when you’re doing it, but not someone else?   One answer might be a cognitive heuristic known as the “self-serving” bias, which causes an individual to feel that she has greater control over her environment than she does.  We easily assume that we can multi-task and balance simple tasks like texting and driving, but we aren’t willing to assume that others are so skilled.  Another cause might be over-optimism:  even when the statistics prove otherwise, people think that they can beat the odds or that a car crash “won’t happen to them.”

Why are so many drivers willing to risk distraction while on the road?  Texting while driving creates a crash risk that is 23 times worse than that of attentive driving, but drivers are routinely willing to risk their lives, and the lives of others, to send such earth-shattering missives as “I’m running late,” “what’s up,” or even “ok”.  The risks are also compounded when drivers are eating-spilling hot food or coffee might cause you to look away from the road in surprise, with possibly horrific results.  Or, while applying makeup, an unexpected tapping of the brakes could cause you to poke yourself in the eye with that mascara wand.  Any multi-tasking is dangerous while you are in a car.  The vast majority of drivers believe that their driving skills are “above average,” but this is statistically impossible.  Some drivers must be below average, or there wouldn’t be an “average.”  Moreover, most people don’t think that driving is difficult, but, if driving weren’t difficult, why would we require you to take a TEST before you’re allowed to do it?  To some extent, driving is an automatic skill, but it cannot be done without some conscious effort.

Distracted driving campaigns, such as the public service announcements featuring Quinn Fabray from Glee, can make the public more aware of the problem.  Although someone might feel like texting while driving is no big deal, seeing the stark reality of what could happen might be enough to change her behavior.  Furthermore, given the success of the “Click it or Ticket” campaign, it is highly likely that increasing public awareness and cracking down on enforcement will alleviate the problems associated with distracted driving.  Such campaigns may be even more successful if they focus less on the driver herself (since she may be likely to assume the statistics do not apply to her) and more on other drivers (a “watch out for the other guy” approach).  By shifting the focus to the other drivers, who are presumably less skilled than oneself, the campaign may be able to affect an even wider audience.  While these campaigns cannot be certain to affect actual behavior, bringing the harsh statistics into the glaring light of day will at least force people to acknowledge that distracted driving is a problem.  Obviously, you wouldn’t drive blindfolded, so why should you be willing to drive blind?  By pointing this, and the devastating consequences that stem from distracted driving, out to the public, distracted driving campaigns can hopefully cause drivers to think twice before sending that next text.

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