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Texting While Driving: Putting the Brakes on Distracted Driving

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Drivers have no shortage of distractions to divert their attention from the road these days, including eating, adjusting the radio, talking to passengers, and using a GPS device. Although any distraction is a safety concern, one type of distraction, in particular, is catching the attention of the public, safety researchers, auto manufacturers, and federal and state governments alike–texting while driving. The National Safety Council estimates that more than 1 million auto accidents each year involve drivers who are using cell phones and texting.1

Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it comprises visual, manual, and cognitive components: Drivers take their eyes off the road for several seconds at a time, have at least one hand off the steering wheel, and concentrate on a task other than operating their vehicle. It is this combination of all three categories that makes texting such a major safety hazard.

In addition, texting is especially popular among young, inexperienced drivers. According to the Pew Research Center, mobile device owners between the ages of 18 and 24 send or receive an average of 109.5 text messages a day.2 A national survey released in June 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 58% of high school seniors and 43% of juniors had texted while driving during the previous month.3 When young adults are distracted by texting, they could easily veer into another driving lane or off the road altogether, run a red light or stop sign, and/or hit a pedestrian or another vehicle.

With a growing body of research pointing to the dangers of texting while driving, both lawmakers and automakers have been quick to react. To date, 39 states have enacted laws banning texting while driving, including California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee. In addition to explicitly warning consumers in TV, print, and online communications about the dangers of texting while driving, auto manufacturers are testing technology that may help stem the problem, such as systems that could automatically convert text messages to voice messages that are read aloud to the driver.

Still, the biggest challenge remains convincing drivers, particularly young ones, to refrain from texting while driving. If you haven't already had a conversation with your son or daughter about the dangers of distracted driving, here are some tips to help you get started:

Be Clear and Concise: Give simple, clear instructions to your children that they are not to use cell phones or other wireless devices while driving. If they must send or receive text messages, they should pull over to a safe place first.

Stress the Consequences: Be sure that your children are aware of the consequences of texting while driving. Emphasize the fact that taking their eyes off the road–even for just a few seconds–can lead to an accident, an injury, or even death.

Set a Good Example: Children often look to their parents to determine what is and is not acceptable behavior. Be a good example to your children by not texting while driving. If you or they are passengers in car, insist that the driver not text while driving.

Distracted driving has become an epidemic, and educating one another about the dangers it poses is vital to ending the problem. Start by not texting while you are driving, insisting that it is not okay for a driver to text while you are a passenger, and spreading the word about the dangers of distracted driving to your children.

1 The National Safety Council. Press Release. Web. 25 July 2012.
2 Americans and Text Messaging. September 2011. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Web. 25 July 2012.
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance–United States, 2011. Surveillance Summaries, Vol. 61, No. 4. Web. 25 July 2012.

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