Texting has become the preferred method of communicating in American culture, especially for people under the age of 20. While texting has helped to create a rich network of social interaction, these interactions are sometimes occurring while texters are driving an automobile.
Drivers under the age of 20 are the largest group of distracted drivers in fatal crashes. Research conducted by the University of Utah in 2008 revealed drivers engaging in cell phone use or texting resulted in poorer driving performance than being legally intoxicated. The same study found hands-free cell phone use was only marginally safer.
The Western Washington University Psychology department conducted the now famous "Clown" experiment to demonstrate how cell phone use affects the awareness of users. A clown dressed in a bright purple and yellow outfit with a large red nose rode a unicycle around the college square, a point of convergence for pedestrian traffic on campus. Professional observers watched four different groups as they passed by the clown and then questioned them a distance from the square. Seventy one percent of people walking in pairs saw the clown, 60 percent of people listening to a music device saw the clown, 51 percent of people walking alone saw the clown, but only 25 percent of people on cell phones saw the clown. The study points out how much of our awareness is taken up by cell phone use and how dangerous this behavior is behind the wheel.
Automobiles are essentially 3,000-5,000 pound missiles hurling down the road at terrific speeds. At 65 miles an hour, the average text transmission of five seconds will have moved the automobile down the road about 600 feet.
We sometimes forget the complex calculations that must take place in our brains to operate a motor vehicle. What must be taking place in our thought processes as we are driving a car? Our brains are taking in multiple pieces of information simultaneously and analyzing each one that then results in a changed driving behavior. It really is amazing and a little scary if you think about it.
In states that have strict laws on cell phone use in cars there has not been a deterrent effect, not yet anyway. Each time you get behind the wheel and reach for your cell phone, ask yourself if it is really worth the very real risk in doing so. Remember all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org