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You’ve probably seen or heard an ad about the dangers of driving while distracted. Driving is a complex task and it takes all of your attention. Taking your eyes off the road for just a few seconds can result in tragedy.
Unfortunately, many people admit to texting, emailing, and browsing the Internet while driving.
So what’s the deal with texting and driving? Just how dangerous is it?
Texting and Driving Laws in Ohio
Ohio, like many other states, has passed laws limiting drivers’ cell phone use. For those under the age of 18, cell phones are completely off-limits in the car. Drivers under the age of 18 can’t text, surf the web, play games, or even talk on the phone. You also can’t use a GPS, unless it’s hands-free. It’s a primary offense, meaning an officer can pull you over for it.
Drivers under 18 are less experienced and more likely to take risks, so the law takes that into account and takes away the temptation. A conviction for texting and driving has serious consequences. You’re looking at a 60-day license suspension and a $150 fine for a first offense. For a second offense, you’ll lose your license for a year and face a fine of $300.
For drivers over 18, the rules are somewhat relaxed. Texting or emailing while driving is illegal, but talking on the phone is permitted. The ban on “text-based communication” reflects concerns about drivers looking away from the road for too long while dealing with text messages and emails. This is a secondary offense, meaning a cop can’t pull you over for it. You have to commit a traffic violation first and the texting violation will be added onto it. The texting and driving portion of the offense will land you a fine of about $150.
How Common is Texting and Driving?
Nationwide, an estimated 600,000 vehicles are being driven during daylight hours by someone using a cell phone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That’s about 11% of drivers. About 20% of drivers admit to using a cell phone to surf the Internet while driving, according to an AT&T study.
The problem is even worse among young drivers. Teens tend to be very attached to their cell phones and most expect an answer to a text or call within less than 5 minutes; that puts pressure on them to always respond right away rather than waiting until it’s safe.
According to the NHTSA, 71% of teens admit to composing a text message while driving. Almost 80% of teens admit to reading a text message while driving.
So, texting while driving is fairly common among adults and very common among teens.
How Dangerous is Texting and Driving?
In a year in the U.S., there are about 1.6 million car crashes involving cell phone use. Of those, 500,000 cause injuries and 6,000 are fatal.
That’s a lot of accidents that may have been completely avoidable.
As with the general incidence of cell phone use while driving, teens have a much higher rate of accidents while using cell phones than adults. In fact, the NHTSA says texting while driving is now the top cause of death among teenagers — it has surpassed even drinking and driving. Texting and driving is more dangerous than just about anything else a teenager can do, accounting for 11 teen deaths every day.
It’s not just dangerous for teenagers. Texting is associated with almost 25% of all car accidents in the U.S.
Why is Texting and Driving So Dangerous?
The root of the danger of texting and driving is driving while distracted. One study found that up to 80% of crashes are attributable to driver distraction.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute did a study to determine how much distraction a cell phone really causes. They put cameras in vehicles to track the drivers’ eyes. They found that, on average, a text message draws your eyes away from the road for more than 5 seconds. In 5 seconds at highway speeds, you’ll drive more than 100 yards. In other words, you’re driving the length of a football field blindly. Texting teens spend an average of 10% of their time on the road driving outside their own lanes.
So, texting while driving means you’re looking at a screen rather than at the road. In addition, the distraction of texting slows your reaction time. It takes about 20% longer to brake while you’re texting than while you’re focused only on driving. A University of Utah study showed that texting teens had the reaction times of 70-year-olds.
A little distraction is no joke. Studies show that you’re 23 times as likely to be in a car crash while texting as you are while focusing only on the road. You’re six times as likely to crash while texting as you are while driving under the influence. In fact, texting and driving is like driving after drinking four beers, which is more than twice the legal limit.
The Results of Ohio’s New Texting Law
Texting and driving is even more dangerous than drunk driving, yet the majority of teens read texts and emails, post to social media, and surf online while driving. The practice is widespread among adults, too.
In the first year after the texting-while-driving ban took effect in Ohio, officers pulled over 230 adults and 43 teenagers for using electronics while driving. In 2013, there were more than 371 crashes involving texting in Ohio. Those crashes caused six deaths, 128 injuries, and 227 incidents of property damage.
Despite the new law, drivers are still driving distracted — even more so today as smartphone ownership grows. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, in 2015, 13,261 drivers in Ohio crashed while being distracted by something within their vehicles, causing 6,916 injuries and 43 deaths. The number of reported distracted drivers rose 11% from 2014 to 2015.
Meanwhile, the State Highway Patrol reports the biggest distraction category in 2015 was “Other Inside the Vehicle” (e.g., passengers, food and/or drinks), which comprised 59% of all distracted drivers and 44% of distracted drivers in fatal crashes (down from 56% in 2014). Using the phone, texting, or emailing accounted for 24% of all distracted drivers, but 41% of distracted drivers in fatal crashes (up from 31% in 2014).
Educating drivers about the dangers of texting and driving is the first step toward preventing it. For teens, you can purchase dashboard cameras that transmit a live feed of your teens’ activities behind the wheel. You can also download a free app that shuts down your phone’s text, email, and web capabilities while you’re driving.
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