Dangerous texting and cell-phone use is widespread, our survey finds
he 911 call went out about a minute after Sarah Edwards received her last text message. In January the 18-year-old highschool senior from Chocowinity, N.C., was reading that message when her 1988 Honda Accord drifted across the center line of a rural two-lane road and into the reartires of a loaded logging truck. She died instantly. “She never looked up,” said her mother, Tracy O’Carroll, remembering the words of the truck driver who made the call. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has called distracted driving a deadly epidemic. And a new nationally representative survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center shows just how widespread it is. Almosttwothirds of the survey respondents had seen drivers in other vehicles texting on a cell phone or other mobile device, just in the previous 30 days. Almost all—94 percent— had observed motorists talking on a handheld phone. In the same period, more than half had seen a dangerous situation that was related to a distracted driver. But the survey also shows what’s helping to change that behavior,including educating drivers about the danger of careless cell-phone use and new bans in many regions that target the hazard.
A problem of focus
Distracted driving refers to anything that takes your eyes or mental focus off of the road. It can be reaching for something in the car or navigating the increasingly complicated controls that our testers have seen in many newer car models. But the use ofcell phones behind the wheel has become a particular concern in recent years. It’s difficult to accurately assess the full extent of the problem because many police departments don’t record the use of cell
Awareness of the danger is helping change behavior.
phones or other causes of distracted driving in their accident reports. Still, available information shows that 5,474 people were killedand almost a half million were injured in accidents related to distracted driving in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Department of Transportation. And 18 percent of those fatal accidents involved the use of a cell phone. The problem is especially pronounced among younger drivers. Sixteen percent of
all teenage drivers involved in a fatal crash werereported to have been distracted while driving. Among our survey respondents who are under 30 years old, 63 percent reported using a handheld phone while driving within the previous 30 days; almost one in three texted behind the wheel. That compares with 41 and 9 percent, respectively, of respondents who are 30 or older. “When you’re young, you think you’re invincible,” says 20-year-old Lindsey Harden,of Wheeling, W.Va. “You think nothing will happen to you.” But two years ago Harden accidentally drove her car into a rock wall while texting with her boyfriend. She suffered extensive injuries that required four months of hospital care and rehabilitation, and she’s still recovering from a crashrelated stroke that affected her memory. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has conductedseveral studies that illustrate how texting and cell-phone use impair driving. In a 2006 study, it found that almost 80 percent of all crashes are caused by driver inattention. A 2009 study found that physically dialing a phone while driving increases the risk of a crash as much as six times. And a study of commercial truckers showed that texting behind the wheel is riskier still, increasing the riskof a crash 23 times
On the road in Los angeles
California is one of nine states that have made it illegal for drivers to text or talk on a handheld cell phone. Such bans have caused many people to change their driving habits, our survey found. But drivers still engage in risky behavior, as we saw on the city’s freeways.
On the phone
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