The Dangers of Texting While Driving: A Personal Perspective

By Michael Borkowski

As a former police officer and mishap investigator, I have witnessed first-hand death and carnage on our highways that no person should. Due to my experience, I have major concerns with poor choices such as texting while driving. Let’s be honest, either you or someone you know has texted while driving at least once; a choice that has endangered you and those around.

Driving is a privilege — not a right — and it comes with personal responsibilities. Those responsibilities require undivided attention so that other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who share the road with you are not placed in danger. One of the most alarming behaviors I see on a daily basis is the driver who cannot put their phone down, sending or receiving emails or texts. We’ve all seen them, drivers with one hand on the wheel the other hand clutching the cell phone like they have a winning lottery ticket. We should have little to no tolerance for individuals who text while driving and endanger those of us sharing the roadway with them.

A few years back I placed a magnetic message decal on the back of my truck tailgate that’s in the shape of a yellow traffic warning sign with the words “Drive Now – Text Later” and the international symbol for no over a cell phone. When my 19-year-old daughter noticed the magnet, I got a verbal “really Dad?” and the look. It was at that time I made a standing bet with her that if she ever caught me using the phone while driving, I would put a brand new $50 bill in her hand.

Even as vehicles have become structurally safer and smarter than ever before, traffic deaths have risen over the past two years, reversing a general decline going back nearly a decade. According to the National Safety Council (NSC) 40,200 people died on the nation’s roads last year. This number is up about 6 percent from 2015, when 35,092 died. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that 3,477 of the people killed and 391,000 of people injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2015 involved distracted drivers.

Now, you may be one of those drivers who thinks you’ve got it all figured out. You’re in control; you haven’t crashed yet, right? You’ve been using your cell phone and texting for some time now and have it mastered; you call it multitasking, right again? Wrong, removing your eyes from the road or hands from the wheel is in no way safe, no matter how you look at it. Texting is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving while intoxicated. The NHTSA reported that sending or reading a text message can take the driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some drivers assume that taking your eyes off the road for close to five seconds is no big deal, but you can imagine the dangerous scenarios which could occur in that short window of time. The latest report issued in June 2017 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), shows that text messaging is currently banned for drivers in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

The use of cell phones while driving plays a role in 1.3 million crashes each year, causing 500,000 injuries and 6,000 deaths according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Text messaging is the most dangerous practice, making a crash 23 times more likely. The NSC states that even if cell phone use in crashes was captured 100 percent of the time, the data would still be under-reported. National state and local organizations are taking steps to improve collection of crash data about driver cell phone use.

The Navy is also moving forward and taking steps to improve data collection in the Web Enabled Safety System (WESS) by using Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS). While HFACS doesn’t specifically call out distracted driving as a separate precondition or act, a recent review of PMV4 fatal crash data identified preconditions such as “not paying attention” and “awareness” which can be indicative of distracted driving. Deeper analysis revealed driver acts that showed the driver either “drifted out of lane (not due to falling asleep) or “didn’t keep eyes on the road” and “reacted too slowly;” all of these actions coincidently mirror the behavior of distracted drivers.

In a recent NSC driver safety poll, 74 percent of people polled rated distracted driving as a top concern, right behind drunk driving, which came in at 78 percent. Even though 74 percent of those polled agree that distracted driving is a top concern, one-third of drivers still reported sending a text message or email while driving at least once in the past 30 days and 42 percent stated that they had read a text or email. In the NSC driver safety poll, 53 percent of the respondents said they believed it is unsafe to text, use voice commands, or talk on a phone while driving.

The problem in many cases is that what people say and what they do is totally different. Those of you that have attended one of my driver improvement courses may recall when I mentioned that it is humanly impossible to sneeze with your eyes open. I then asked, “How many of you have ever sneezed while driving?” A lot of hands went up. Then we had a reality check, at 60 mph your vehicle is traveling 90 feet per second (fps). During that one sneeze, you lost six car lengths without a clue as to what happened around you. Now remember, as previously mentioned, the average text message can take your eyes off the road long enough to cover a football field; an eye opener.

Not only do these poor choices endanger everybody on the road, but there are monetary costs associated to those choices. Because of the irresponsible drivers who text and drive, insurance policy prices have risen, increasing what policy owners pay for insurance across the board. According to the insurance industry, this rise in vehicular accidents has forced a 16 percent increase in rates since 2011. About 13 percent of drivers age 18 to 20 who were involved in car wrecks admitted to texting or talking on their mobile devices at the time of the crash.

Just as public opinion has made drunken driving socially unacceptable, public opinion could make texting and driving undesirable too. Those drivers who are texting while driving are easy to spot, because they demonstrate similar behaviors as those drivers under the influence of alcohol. They usually weave in their lane from one side to the other, travel slower than the surrounding traffic, leave huge gaps between them and the vehicles in front of them, and often show a delayed reaction time.

Unfortunately, with the ability to place the phone down or out of sight in an instant, the chances of getting caught by the authorities are slim. So most of the time the laws against texting and driving are almost impossible to enforce, unless the driver involved in a crash admits that they were texting or playing with their phone at the time of the incident. It can be challenging to verify that cell phone use was a contributing factor in an accident.

The truth is that almost every day there is a motor vehicle crash where use of the cell phone or texting was a contributing factor to the accident. Knowing this fact, I urge all drivers to put their phones down and drive responsibly. I hope that the distracted driving statistics in this article are enough to help make responsible driving your priority once you get behind the wheel. In this age of convenience and instant gratification it may seem that texting while driving is OK, but it really isn’t. Stop to consider the consequences. Is it worth it? Is there anything in life that can’t wait to be taken care of later? Your life and the lives of others are certainly worth more than a scroll through Facebook, updating your page or a text message. Remember to make conscious responsible decisions once you get behind the wheel and don’t let a crash or a ticket be your wake up call to put the phone down. When you’re in the vehicle – put the phone down and let voice mail take your calls for you. You may be one of those people who may have to turn the phone off or place it out of reach. In the same way that we have made it a habit to buckle–up, you could try to make it a habit of using the center console or glove box to store your phone while driving. “Buckle-Up & Forget About It” could be your new motto.

A search of crash report news articles where cell phone use was captured are bulleted below:

• In March of this year in Texas, there was a fatal crash in which a driver who was texting crashed into a church bus, killing 13 people.

• A 19-year-old mother-to-be from Naples, Florida, was killed in a tragic car crash when she was hit by a driver using a cell phone to send text messages.

• A 20-year-old woman from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to jail time after a crash in which her cell phone use caused her to collide with another vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle, a 16-year-old young lady, was killed in the crash. The driver in question was found to have been speeding and reaching for her cell phone at the time of the accident.

• An 18-year-old Minnesota resident was charged with gross negligence and vehicular homicide after a series of 15 text messages sent and received while driving resulted in the wrongful death of a 77-year-old woman. According to reports in the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, the teen hit the woman’s vehicle in a head-on collision, sustaining serious injuries herself. She will serve up to 10 years in prison as a result of the crash.

• A 70-year-old man stepped out of his car to inspect possible damage after a minor fender-bender, only to be hit and killed by a distracted driver who was logged-in to Facebook at the time of the accident. Details of the accident suggest that the woman in question was updating her Facebook page via mobile phone.

If it’s an emergency or it cannot wait, pull over safely and handle the situation.

I know I’m not going to get everyone on board here and there will always be someone who argues the point that there are enough laws already on the books to stop hazardous driving. They see anti-texting laws as the long arm of government reaching into their personal vehicles. That argument might make more sense if distracted drivers didn’t also kill other innocent drivers and passengers.

The bottom-line is educating people about the dangers of distracted driving. We all need to be part of the solution, not the problem. Educate and encourage those in your inner circles to not use the cell phone while driving. The safety of everyone who uses our roadways depends upon safe driving practices and all drivers should act responsibly. Texting while driving is just simply not being responsible. The life we save may be our own or our children. The naval community ended the fiscal year with a total of 12 PMV4 traffic related deaths.

For those of you who read this to the end and were still wondering, my daughter has yet to collect that bet.

One Team, One Fight – Drive Now, Text Later

About michael.morris