Distracted Driving

November 10, 2015 by

We all know texting and driving is bad. Study after study has shown that it impairs driver attention and performance, making operators less aware of both hazardous and routine road conditions. And it’s not just texting. Some sources say that upwards of 500,000 people _at any given moment_ are using their smartphone hands-on in some way while driving.

Most states have gotten on-board with a texting ban; only Montana and Arizona have no laws on the books prohibiting it. So I guess you can text while driving in Big Sky Country, just don’t hit a moose. Texas and Missouri have partial bans, primarily for novice drivers. The other 46 forbid it entirely. Good news, for those of us that appreciate getting from point A to B with our cars intact, right? Well, not quite so good as you might think.

New Hampshire recently became just the 15th state to enact legislation prohibiting drivers from ‘hands on’ device use while operating a vehicle. Outside of these 15 states, there is nothing keeping drivers from checking Facebook, answering e-mails or even playing Candy Crush. Sure, we get that level 65 is hard, but surely speeding down the freeway at 70 mph isn’t the best way to tackle it. So called ‘hands-free’ operation in states with these bans is still legal, allowing users with bluetooth enabled controls to still use their devices. Most penalties for using a device hands-on while driving in these states amount to fines, increasing with subsequent violations.

The other issue that that we humans like to think that the laws apply to everyone but ourselves. ‘Cause we’re all better than average drivers, right? But while a 2012 study indicated that the majority of drivers supported a ban on talking, texting, or emailing from a cell-phone while driving, nearly 15% admitted to doing it themselves. So, it’s dangerous, just when everyone else does it. In states with ‘texting only’ it can also be almost impossible for law enforcement to tell if a driver was texting, or merely performing some other legal activity on their phone.

This isn’t a problem that’s going away anytime soon. Smartphone and other device use is on the rise. As we become more and more connected, we feel increasing pressure to stay connected at all times, even when it risks the safety of ourselves or others. It seems likely that we’ll continue to skirt what laws do exist too; ‘cause really, who obeys speed limits?

That’s not to say the bans are completely worthless. A 2009 study suggests that usage of devices while driving is about 15% lower in states that have handheld bans in place. That’s a start, but the real change will come when drivers using devices are more educated to the dangers, and become convinced that they themselves are part of the problem. Yes, it’s optimistic. Maybe even quixotic. But we like to believe the best of people.

So just wait until you get to work to play Candy Crush, alright. We promise not to tell your boss, as long as you share some tips for level 65.

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