Statistics from the United States Department of Transportation found that over 23% of auto accidents in 2011 involved cell phones. That is 1.3 million car accidents being effected by texting and driving. Additionally, if a driver texts and drive, they are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash.
Drivers under the age of 20 are reported to be in the largest proportion of drivers who get in accidents because of a distraction, so what makes this age group more susceptible? Furthermore, with all the risk, what exactly makes a driver text and drive?
According to psychologist Marine Hartwell Walker, there are several reasons why a teen may text and drive, such as “adrenalin rush” and over confidence. Many teens go into driving with the belief that it is a straightforward task. An even likelier scenario is that teens still have an undeveloped brain. The part of the brain that controls decision making is not fully developed until the early twenties, making a teenage driver unaware of the terrible dangers of texting and driving, as stated by Walker.
Mark Fox, an associate dean for Community Health and Research Development at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine, explained that while adults will take their eyes off the road for one to two seconds, teens will often take off their eyes for five seconds or more. Though this might not seem very long, depending on the speed of the car and the amount of time the eyes are taken off of the road, it could be deadly.
“The brain cannot switch from one complex task to another even with familiar or automatic tasks,” says Nancy Inhofe, also with the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine and lead author on the 2012 study. “So, if you are driving then start to text, your brain cannot fully attend to the details of driving. Though the brain can switch back and forth, but stimulus studies show that switching cannot happen quick enough to avoid deadly driving errors.” She also revealed that when the brain is performing two tasks, the performance level of one or both can decline. Additionally, the driver suffers “inattention blindness”, which means exactly what it sounds like that the driver is blind, because the driver isn`t being fully aware of what’s going. Inhofe and Fox say that drivers miss over 50% of objects on the road when they become diverted.
Although the statistics point to teens as the guiltiest and mostly likely to wreck when it comes to texting and driving, all drivers, no matter how old, should not text. A study by Marcel Just, and Tim Keller, at Carnegie Mellon University, discovered that the brain has a limited capacity [PDF]. When using a phone while driving, the brain is reduced by 37% of its full ability. That means driving takes a certain amount of capability and texting also takes up a certain amount of the same part of the brain, making texting and driving a lethal combination. Even if the two tasks may be performed by different regions of the brain, it drastically slows reaction time.
Do laws banning texting while driving that was put in place in 39 states plus the District of Columbia really help? By conducting a focus group, researchers Inhofe and Fox realized that since the law has been placed, teens will often hide their phones, sometimes making it more of a distraction. In North Carolina, the numbers of teens admitting to texting in driving increased after the law was passed.
“ The law alone will not be the total answer to the problem. What we do know is that a law combined with a highly visibility enforcement campaign does reduce the number of people texting,” says
|Related stories: Text Your Neck Off; Texting While Driving|
Abby Bentson 18, denied texting and driving herself, but she did admit that “some teens I know are very comfortable with driving, making them overconfident drivers, and making them confident when it comes to texting and driving.”Ellie Bentson
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License