Talking and texting on cell phones are the most frequently talked about concerns involving accidents and distracted driving, with texting now taking the lead over concerns about drivers who talk on their cell phones while operating a vehicle.
Among the concerns that cell phone use raises is that drivers often become so focused on the conversation they're having that it distracts them from attention to the road. Several research studies have found that even intense listening on a cell phone can impair driver attention on the road. Cell phone use, even with a hands-free device, can create a situation where drivers develop a potentially lethal form of tunnel vision that creates what researchers called inattention blindness.
Researchers found that inattention blindness slows driver reaction time by 20 percent and that some tests subjects missed half the red lights they encountered in simulated driving.
They reported that the research subjects took in a reduced amount of information while on the phone. They missed things like swerving cars and sudden lane changes, which resulted in several simulated rear-end collisions.
Texting on cell phones is now considered an even more serious problem than talking on a cell phone, because it requires looking down at the message the sender is creating while moving fingers that should be on the steering wheel. In addition to not looking where they are going, text message senders are usually focused on their message—not on their driving. Experts tell us that taking your eyes off the road for even one to two seconds can make the difference between avoiding a crash and causing one.
Texting is a particularly serious concern because while 20 percent of drivers admit to texting, when you look at drivers in the age 18-24 year old category, 66 percent are sending or receiving text messages while driving. Add the distraction of text messaging to young driver inexperience and you've got a particularly lethal combination.
Currently only a few states outlaw texting while driving, fewer than those that prohibit talking on cell phones when driving, but more states are looking at making it illegal in the wake of a series of spectacular crashes with deadly results.
There's no doubt having a cell phone with you when you travel is a great resource to use in calling for help or reporting trouble on the road. But whether you use a handheld phone or a hands free device, researchers and safety specialists agree that the only really safe way to use your phone—whether to call or to text message—is to safely pull off the road, stop and then make your call.
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