What discussion of media impacts of life would be complete without looking at the relationship between cell phones and traffic accidents. Cell phones were originally seen as on-the-road safety devices. Ironically, today The National Safety Council, CDC, U.S. Department of Transportation and World Health Organization recognize them as one of the leading causes of traffic accidents.
The National Safety Council estimates that at least 23 percent of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.3 million crashes – involve cell phone use per year. An estimated 1.2 million crashes each year involve drivers using cell phones for conversations and at least 100,000 additional crashes can be related to drivers who are texting. Cell phone conversations are involved in 12 times as many crashes as texting.
Researchers observing more than 1,700 drivers found that three out of every four drivers using a cell phone committed a traffic violation according to the National Safety Council. At any given daylight moment, they say that 9 percent of drivers are talking on phones (handheld and hands-free).
The National Safety Council report also indicates that talking on a cell phone while driving makes you four times more likely to crash, and texting while driving increases your chances of a crash by up to 8 to 23 times.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that an average of 15 people are killed each day and more than 1,200 people are injured in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted drive. The CDC recognizes three main types of distraction:
- Visual—taking your eyes off the road;
- Manual—taking your hands off the wheel; and
- Cognitive—taking your mind off what you are doing.
Distracted driving activities include (but are not limited to) things like using a cell phone and texting. The CDC says texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction. Younger, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 may be at highest risk because they have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes distracted driving as a serious and growing problem. With more and more people owning mobile phones, and the rapid introduction of new “in-vehicle” communication systems, they claim this problem is likely to escalate globally in the coming years.
WHO says drivers using mobile phones increase their accident risk by increasing their reaction times, inadvertently following too closely and swerving into adjacent traffic. They also claim that there is no conclusive evidence to show that hands-free phoning is any safer than hand-held phoning, because of the cognitive distraction involved with both types of phones.
The problem of distracted driving has become so serious that the U.S. Department of Transportation has set up a program to end it. See D!straction.gov to get the facts, get involved and see what the government recommends.