The dangers of text messaging and driving

I was driving recently and came up behind a black Jeep Cherokee ontexting-while-driving the highway. There was no cause for concern at first but after following behind for a brief time, I began to notice this driver was having difficulty keeping their vehicle between the lines on the road.

For ten minutes this operator proceeded to do what can only be described as acrobatic driving; driving that visually appeared to be so unsafe I decided to back off and give this person enough room so that when they crashed I would not be affected, it was that serious. “Is this person drunk?”

I thought but as I reasoned with myself I realized that while they weren’t doing a particularly good job of keeping their SUV between the lines, I hadn’t witnessed any other behavior to convince me that they were out and out intoxicated. Yet, I couldn’t be completely sure; you can only watch someone bounce between the dividing line and shoulder so many times before you have to say to yourself “it doesn’t matter if they are drunk, having a heart attack or just plain distracted you have to question the state of safety and just back off(and perhaps call the police).

A short while down the road, our side of the highway broke into two lanes, and I caught up to the Cherokee once again, this time pulling past the vehicle. As I pulled up alongside the Cherokee to pass… might have already suspected, what I witnessed was a young man in his mid to late 20s with two hands on his “Smart” phone and, apparently with only his knee, steering the vehicle. I’m not sure he even noticed me.

The National Safety Council and other American research organizations have some alarming statistics about motor vehicle crashes in the United States that help illustrate how the increasing prevalence of cell phone use and the danger of text messaging is directly impacting motor vehicle-related deaths.

Among them:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are one of the top three causes of death for all U.S citizens.
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for U.S. citizens aged 3 to 34.
  • Roughly 1.6 million car crashes each year are directly attributable to cell phone use, both texting and talking.
  • The risk of motor vehicle collision increases by a factor of 23 when a motor vehicle operator texts while driving.
  • In 1995, only 13 percent of the U.S. population were cell phone subscribers. As of 2009, that number has increased to an eye-popping 91 percent.

This last statistic may be the most troubling because it means we have reached a point in time where virtually every U.S. citizen is a cell phone user. Many young adults have never known a time in their lives where cell phone use hasn’t been a part of their every day existence ? in the home, in the school and, most troubling, in the car. Texting and driving laws, while well meaning, are very difficult to enforce. Given the increase in motor vehicle crashes and fatalities that texting brings, the car insurance buying public is likely to feel the effects of impaired driving in their insurance costs for many years to come.

In the end, it’s important to remember that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Put down the cell phone when you’re driving. Let’s be careful out there.