In the last 25 years one million deaths have occurred on the nation’s highways, according to National Safety Council Senior Director of Transportation Dave Teater. But by far the largest killer of those between the ages of 15 and 24 years is distracted driving, claiming 35,000 young people per year.
With the advent of the cell phone over 30 years ago, the phenomenon of distracted driving has produced alarming statistics and numerous studies related to how the human brain functions while using a cell phone or texting while driving. The latest statistics compiled in 2011 attribute 213,000 crashes to texting while driving and 1.1 million to cell phone use, numbers largely considered to be underreported by law enforcement.
“Cell phone use is the driving equivalent of .08 blood alcohol content,” Teater says. “When you use a cell phone the same effect takes place, the vision narrows, attention dulled and peripheral vision impaired … hands-free is not danger-free—the same effect takes place regardless.”In physiological terms the human brain is conditioned to do one thing well and when taxed with other tasks will chose to focus on the cell phone conversation over driving on the road.
Teater ought to know. His 9-year old son was killed by a driver who ran a stop light while using a cell phone. Now Teater’s mission is to spread the word on the tragedy of distracted driving.
Distracted driving is catching the attention of many others across the nation, including national corporations and small business. Coca Cola was sued for $21 million by a driver who was injured in an accident. It was proved that Coke had no distracted driving policy.
Companies are also finding that using a cell phone for company business does not equate to a more productive employee. Studies have shown that business decisions made while driving are less effective due to a 37% drop in brain activity. Finally, over 2,000 companies who have put in place “no cell phone use while driving” policies have recorded only a 1.5% drop in productivity.
What can you do to reduce distracted driving while on the road?
Try a 30-day test. Put a statement on your pick-up message that you support reducing distracted driving and will not answer while driving. Make a note of how many urgent calls you receive—most likely you will not have many. Prepare your family and co-workers so they know what you are doing. Tell those who may need to contact you in an emergency to call twice in quick succession and you will pull off the road and call back.
At the end of the 30-day trial evaluate the impact this call-free trial had on your commute, work day and driving experience. Chances are the world didn’t come to an end, and that the road was a little safer for everybody. Try it, and see what you find out.
Rich Lane is the Local 1245 Business Representative responsible for the peer-to-peer safety program.