The proliferation of mobile phone devices amongst most Americans has been a positive step in the communication frontier but a challenge to the transport sector. The use of mobile phones, chiefly texting, while driving has had dangerous consequences on the roads by distracting drivers. Texting while driving is linked to destructive driving that accounts for numerous road accidents. The statistics indicate that the problem posed by distracted driving courtesy of mobile phone use is increasingly getting to intolerable levels.
In the year 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that 18 percent of all fatal crashes that occurred in that year were due to distracted driving. This contributed to the death of 3,092 persons and wounding of 416,000 people. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that a distracted driver was 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident than one who is not. This problem presented by texting while driving is most prevalent among teenagers. 11 per cent of teenage drivers aged between 18-20 admitted to having been involved in an automobile accident but survived. They attributed the cause of the crash to sending and receiving mobile phone texts while on the wheel. According to a Pew survey, forty percent of all American teenagers have admitted to having seen a driver use a mobile phone while driving in a way likely to compromise the life of passengers.
The likelihood of a driver who is texting to crash is similar to that of a person with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, according to studies. This is the point of alcohol concentration that qualifies drivers as intoxicated for purposes of driving safely. More so, hand held devices do not put away the risk but rather exacerbates it by seeming to suggest that such behavior is safe. Another study conducted in the year 2003 by Harvard University estimated that 2, 600 people are killed every year owing to mobile phone-related distracted driving.
Despite these imposing statistics and research, most Americans have ignored or downplayed the risks that emanate from texting while driving. On the contrary, they turn on their mobile phones while behind the wheel converting vehicles into a chat room. This problem is aggravated by the disconnect that there exists between perception and reality. Studies have shown that drivers tend to overestimate their own ability to multitask. This perception is also present in drivers who overestimate the ability of other drivers multitask. Mobile phone device makers, as well as automobile companies, have been rather indifferent to the problem by aggressively continuing to develop gadgets that cause distractions. This is despite their knowing of the dangers posed by multitasking while driving.
The federal government has warned about texting while driving and bills have been prepared in a bid to ban the behavior in different states albeit with relative success. In fact, the greatest challenge to safe driving now is not alcohol but distracted driving. The distraction wrought by texting can be attributed to the human brain which consciously and subconsciously engages in many levels while driving. The mere fact that there is no breathalyzer to detect the level of impairment as for drunk drivers makes it even more onerous than drunk driving. From a public perspective, it is necessary to eliminate the issue of texting while driving in order to make the roads safer. The enhancement of safety on the roads will have an effect of providing an incentive for people to use public transport as opposed to private means. This would have the benefit of reducing car emissions, congestion and reduce road maintenance.
According to research, a person who texts while driving regularly stare at their mobile screens for stretches of more than five seconds. A professor of psychological and natural sciences at Johns Hopkins University, Steve Yantis, argues that there is a limit to which the brain can multitask. He makes the case that the brain has difficulties assessing separate streams of information even in the event one is visual and the other oral. In addition to texting, messages on received on the mobile phones while texting has an effect of conjuring images in minds of the driver. Once the vehicle swerves from the road unexpectedly, or a pedestrian step on the road, the driver’s mind is unable to react in time owing to its lack of processing power caused.
Well knowing the dangers of texting while driving, it then poses the question why drivers continue to be engaged in such behavior? This could partly be attributed to the immense social pressure to stay in touch with friends and colleagues while driving and possible addiction to gadgets. John Ratey, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University explains that people get a bust of adrenaline while using digital gadgets without which persons get bored with activities such as driving itself. He argues that due to acquired attention deficit disorder; texting while driving is usually just a way to enable the brain crave stimulation. He discounts the argument that texting is way of increasing productivity through multi-tasking.
One of the ways that have been started by several states has been that of banning texting while driving. A number of States have enacted legislation to proscribe texting while driving but not without opposition. However, research indicates that even in the states that have legislated against texting behind the wheel has not produced the desired effect. A study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute indicates that state laws have not led to increased reduction of car crashes from distracted driving. The problem with the texting ban is that even for drivers who do adhere to the particular legislation, they may substitute this texting behavior for another distracting behavior thus continuing the problem. In addition, drivers using their phones to text tend to hold their phones at a lower level while in the vehicle to avoid being caught in state officers where the texting ban exists. This in effect increases the amount of visual distraction thus significantly increasing the risk of crashing. It, therefore, follows that overemphasis of the law against texting by placing a ban ignores other distracting behavior and has not been effective.
The ultimate solution to the problem lies in the technology itself. An effective measure of curbing the problem is preventing mobile phones from sending or receiving texts. The GPS capability of a mobile phone provides the latitude, longitude and the speed of the respective mobile phone. This GPS capability can be used to prevent the sending and receiving of texts while travelling in a moving vehicle. This avails the simplest solution to the problem of texting by allowing the blocking of texting. This does not even necessitate the acquisition of new handsets. This texting prevention solution takes advantage of the existing mobile phone capabilities of a network to determine the location and travelling speed of a registered mobile phone. As a consequence, whenever the mobile phone is discovered to be travelling fast in the vehicle, texting immediately stops. This feature would easily be effected by making minor software changes by carriers. This could then be given the legal backing thus potentially solving the distracting issue caused by texting behind the wheel. He patented solution will require the networks to request location and speed of the mobile phone on registration and during periodical updates. If it is found that the mobile phone is traveling too fast or is located in the wrong location, then all services that go beyond the basic requirements to remain as an attached device on the networks may be denied.
Besides, other ways of solving this problem include conducting education to the public and drivers on the dangers of texting while driving. Parents and adults would also do a great deal of good to solving the problem by setting a good example to the teenagers who seem to be indulging in this dangerous behavior. Law enforcement in some states where implementation is not to the letter also needs to be amplified.
It is apparent that texting while driving is a serious issue that requires serious thought. However, as evident from this paper, legislating against the vice has not been effective so far, owing to its inadequacies as outlined herein. A technological solution of disabling text communication in vehicles while driving could avail a solution.
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Drews, Frank. "Text Messaging During Simulated Driving." The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (2009): 1-9.
McKenzie , Henry . Identifying Texting while Driving Behaviors and Perceptions of Administrative and Technological Control Mechanisms. Texas: Texas A&M Health Science Center, 2010.