Text messaging while driving proves problematic

By Janene Gibbons
March 5, 2009

Everyone knows the dangers of talking on the phone while driving but most people are misled into thinking that the hazardous behavior comes from having your hands off of the wheel. Leading Researcher and Director of the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah David Strayer said that problem does not have to do with whether or not you have a hands-free phone. The problem is that when you are on the cell phone your mind is not on the road and your brain is distracted.

Strayer’s research has caused the National Safety Council to call for an all-out ban on using cell phones while driving. The non-profit advocacy group has helped raise awareness about driving drunk and push for seat-belt laws in the past.

Drivers far and wide are guilty of partaking in this road distraction.

Angela Donato, sophomore early childhood and elementary education major, said, “I’m the worst driver in the world. And then on top of it, I’ll talk on the phone and text.” Donato admitted to getting lost sometimes while driving due to this bad habit.

Besides getting lost, real road studies and accident statistics indicate that drivers who talk on the cell phone are four times more likely to get into an accident.

People who drive legally drunk are on the same level of risk as those who talk on their cell phone while driving.

“My first car accident was because I was using my phone calculator. I had watched a movie and the ages of the characters didn’t match up so I was doing the math on my calculator. Now [when I am driving] my phone goes between my seatbelt and my chest and I put it on speakerphone,” sophomore English major Amanda Battaglia said.

The reasons behind the dangers of talking on a phone while driving, although not entirely understood, have to do with mental images conjured by a phone conversation that disturbs the driver’s spatial processing.

Eye-tracking studies conclude that drivers who usually look from side-to-side frequently stare straight ahead when they are on their cell phone. It is possible for persons talking on a cell phone while driving to get so distracted that their brains don’t process the majority of information they are obtaining from their retinas. When this happens their reaction time is significantly slower.

Although presented with these facts, some people feel that being able to talk on your cell phone or text while driving really depends on someone’s individual abilities. “If you can multi-task efficiently and effectively that’s fine,” Jamie Rago, sophomore social work and psychology major, said.

Others like junior special and elementary education major Sara Trzusaowski said, “I don’t think people should talk on the cell phone while they are driving because the risk of getting into a car accident is already high. One might think they can multi-task but it’s more about the other people on the road.”

However good a person thinks they are at multitasking, studies show that cell phone conversations are more distracting than other speaking and listening activities that are conducted while driving. One particular study done by Utah researchers, consisted of putting 96 drivers in a simulator and telling them to stop a rest stop a couple miles down the road. Nearly every driver with a passenger found the rest stop partially because the passenger could act as a another pair of eyes but half of the drivers who were talking on their cell phone missed their exit for the stop.

The big question comes down to, whether cell phone use during driving be banned completely. New Hampshire was the fist to lead the way in this department. In 2001, it passed the nation’s first law against distracted driving.

New Hampshire tickets drivers for eating, drinking, talking on a cell phone and/or applying makeup. Since then many states have followed suit. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have laws restricting cell phones while driving. Nineteen states track mobile phone involvement in auto crashes.

Radnor Police Sergeant Andy Block said, “There are no specific laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but several local municipalities have ordinances about operating your vehicles when using a cell phone.” He says that if there were a ban, “It would have to be regulated back down to the states.” Block does think that talking on the cell phone while driving can be construed as careless driving and could have the same effects as driving drunk. “If you see a vehicle coming

down the road and the driver is using both of their hands to text and steering with their knees, I think that is a careless disregard for other persons and property,” Block said.

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Janene Gibbons

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