textingdrivingI had to run some errands today, the first of which involved getting on the freeway. I don’t particularly like merging onto this freeway because it’s a two-lane feeder and I either get blown off the road by someone going well over the speed limit or stuck behind poke-along-Stanley. Today it was poke-along-Stanley going 10 mph under the speed limit, made extra frustrating because he had his cell phone butt 4” away from his mouth talking speaker-phone style, selfishly oblivious to the fact there were cars around him.

My state has had a hands-free law for a year and a half now that is widely ignored. With a first offense penalty of $50, why not? The real cost comes from the time lost it takes to actually be pulled over to receive the ticket. Only after the third offense does the fine become $250, a bit more painful. According to authorities, ticket-writing has gone up 93% this year over the same time period last year. Ninety-three percent! And I still don’t go through an intersection without seeing at the very least 3 drivers using their cell phones in some manner. No one can say why drivers are still ignoring the hands-free law, other than they simply don’t see it as a deterrent. Apparently it’s easy to gripe about how poorly everyone drives while using their cell phones, yet still continue to practice the bad habit.

It’s been shown that using a cell phone while driving reduces concentration on driving by 37%. That’s a little over a third for those of us who aren’t mathematically inclined. Imagine taking a test in school and having a third of your score chopped off. That’s an automatic D on your test right there. Is anyone really satisfied with a D on a test?

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement hand-held cell phone bans. Thirty-seven states and D.C. ban all cell use by beginning drivers, though only 20 states and D.C. ban it for school bus drivers. Shouldn’t all states ban school bus drivers from using cell phones? That’s a pretty scary statistic. The picture of a school bus driver chatting away on her cell phone while pandemonium breaks out behind her isn’t a pleasant one. And hang out on a corner next to a high school when it gets out for the day and you know that new drivers aren’t staying off their phones: 71% of teens have typed text messages while driving and 78% of them have read one while driving. Now those are scary statistics!

How many of us have seen what we thought for sure was a drunk driver, weaving in and out of a lane, only to catch up toCell-Stop-Sign-10x15 see it was a texting driver? Forty-three states and D.C prohibit texting by drivers. That doesn’t seem to matter much to the texter, though. They just have to get that message sent, regardless of how many lanes they take up or how many lives they take in the process. Someone who is texting is 23 times more likely to be in a crash than someone who is not distracted by texting.

We can preach all we want about not using our cell phones and not texting and driving, but it’s time to get real and own up to it.  One option is a portable hands-free device, like the one Darren reviewed recently.  My Acura MDX has a Bluetooth feature that I make use of so I don’t need to touch my phone while I drive, but it’s still clunky trying to find someone in my phonebook to make a call.  If I have to make a call, I pull over. It’s that simple. To answer a call, it’s a push of a button—much easier. I’m fortunate that I don’t get many calls on my cell, maybe one every other month when I’m in the car. I used to text only at red lights while my brakes were applied, but I decided I didn’t like that feeling of not knowing what was going on around me. They were always quick texts: “on my way,” “what do you want at store,” that kind of thing. But even though I was stationary, I was still distracted. A driver should always be scanning the roadway whenever the car is near others. Besides, the real point is to be a good example for my kids. They aren’t in the car with me much anymore, but when they are, I don’t want them seeing me using my phone. I’ve never been a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of parent and I’m not about to start with my cell phone. My rule-following son won’t be a problem; my daughter, on the other hand . . . We may have to invest in some in-vehicle cameras. That will no doubt be fodder for another blog in the future.

There are lots of resources I plan on sharing with my kids when they start to drive, and that’s coming sooner than I’d like to think. NHTSA has distraction.gov where you can find out your state law on cell phone use, research, a pledge you and your kids can take, and survivor videos. AT&T has the It Can Wait no texting and driving campaign. If you have an Android phone, AT&T offers 2 free apps called AT&T DriveMode and Safely Go. AT&T DriveMode sends a customizable response to incoming texts letting your friends know you’re driving. Safely Go auto-replies to texts and auto-sends your calls to voicemail. Let’s not forget that AT&T has the “From One Second to the Next” documentary that follows 4 survivors of texting-causes crashes that will change your view of “yeah, but it’s only a quick text” forever. Impatience has gotten the best of me at times, but this is definitely one area where I keep the phone down. It’s not worth it. Is it worth it to you?