You may have recently seen our PSA recently depicting phone usage while driving. What you may not know is the story behind it and the message that it’s trying to convey. For more about the young girl who died as the result of a distracted driving crash,Cady Reynolds, click here.
There is no question about it: ALL phone usage by a driver including sending or reading text, dialing the phone, talking on it hands free or otherwise, using it for handheld navigation- all of these will decrease driver awareness and increase crash risk, significantly.
How much? Texting between 8 and as much as 16 times increased crash risk; other forms of data lookup and reading between 6-10 times increased risk; and here is the stunner: talking on the phone (hands free or hand held) increases crash risk by a factor of 4.
The other notable fact is that each year, at least one quarter of all crashes in the US is caused by a driver using a cell phone; and the most impacting cell phone behavior is talking on the phone. This seems counter-intuitive since sending and reading data is so much riskier in practice, but to understand the significance of risk you need to judge the risk and the prevalence of the behavior, and talking on the phone while driving is something that can occupy most or the entire ride.
Talking on the phone is also the cause of “inattention blindness“, which is when your brain becomes less alert, less aware and sometimes completely unaware to what would normally be perceived as dangerous omissions to road rules or interactions with other drivers.
Note too that inattention blindness is a human condition; not a good v/s bad driver situation. All human beings, teens and adults, will have decreased performance when attempting any cognitive task while talking to another person who is not in their environment. Believe it? Consider this then. Which of these drivers would you think, for safety reasons, should not be allowed to drive while talking on a phone?
If you would discount any of these drivers, then you must discount them all because inattention blindness affects all people; so too it affects all drivers. Again, hands free and hand held talking pose the same risk (4x increased risk) so all of those bulit-in devices in your car do NOT make you any safer.
Another fact that is not well known is that talking on a phone, being at 4x increased crash risk, is the same level of risk as a drunk driver (driving at .08 BAC). One is temporary impairment while the other is sustained but the increase crash risk they pose is equal. Think of how differently we treat crashes caused by both these categories of drives? (even the “Myth Busters” series tested this- see their results here).
To learn more about inattention blindness, click on this link to an interview with Dr. David Strayer who has researched this phenomenon to a great degree.
The smartest and safest choice is to drive without your phone. It can be done and should be done to be part of the culture that is saying “enough is enough”. If you want to address the most prevalent and reduce c
rashes, we must put down the phone and just drive.
How can you take action? Right now, as you are reading this, take out your cell phone and change your busy message to something like this:
“Hi, this is (your name) and I am either busy or I’m driving. Leave a message and I will return your call later. And take my advice, don’t drive distracted.”
Then ignore your phone when it rings, knowing the person will get the message. For texting you can do the same thing. There are many apps that will allow you to put your phone into ‘drive’ mode and block incoming messages &/or send out a message letting people know that you are driving. Many of these apps are free and easy to use. See more about our Change Your Message program here.
Lastly, get out of the habit of looking at your phone when you are at a light to check messages, tweets, FB posts, whatever. This just keeps you addicted to that device and more prone to pick it up if it makes one of it’s many alert noises. Your mind is distracted up to 4 seconds even after you set it down and many crashes occur in intersections due to this driver practice.
Here is a PSA by the National Safety Council that drives this point home and even more information about cell phone distracted driving here: