The proliferation of mobile devices not just in the United States but throughout the world seems to have become a necessity that many people have become dependent on to in many ways. For many, these devices have replaced television, radio, phone books, desktop computers, CD players and books with their ability to provide instantaneous information at the touch of your fingertips.
We are addicted to technology and most people are lost without their cell phones. The dependence on cell phones has brought an era of social distortion where people are communicating through their phones and the "human aspect" of interaction has been removed. Just take notice at a restaurant where people, even on a date, are on their mobile phones talking or messaging. Observe an airport terminal gate where no one communicates with each other anymore except to ask "Is our plane here?" Or ask the waiter or waitress taking your order how irritated they become when their customers are on the phone. Even at important meetings, we see people texting or communicating on their mobile devices in some form.
Social messaging, music, texting, games, e-mail and other online offerings like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have consumed our daily lives. As a manager, sometimes I get irritated to find someone sending me an e-mail when they are just a few feet away. We have become "anti-social butterflies."
Although the use of smart phones has become an everyday part of life and is a useful tool, it sometimes comes with negative consequences such as death and injury. In America, not only do we love or phones, we also love our vehicles and that freedom of traveling anytime and anywhere. However, the fact remains that driving while texting or talking on a cellphone is extremely dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, research has clearly demonstrated that three safe driving practices are removed during texting:
- Manual -- Your hands are taken off the wheel
- Visual -- Your eyes are removed from the road ahead of you and
- Cognitive -- Your mind is removed from the task of driving. Other research also indicates that its worse than driving drunk.
According to the most recent data, the National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) reports that in 2011, 3,331 people were killed in vehicle crashes involving someone who was distracted and 387,000 people were injured. Research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) indicates that engaging in visual-manual tasks like texting increases the likelihood of a crash by three times. The University of Utah has this figure even higher at 5 times more likely to be in a crash. Furthermore, NHTSA reports that sending or receiving a message on average takes 4.6 seconds, which is traveling the time it takes to travel the length of a football field driving at 55 miles per hour. Increase that speed to 75 or 85 and and it takes less than three seconds. That's a long distance to have your eyes off the road. Have you every traveled a long distance and you don't remember the trip in between? That is what happens when you are engaged in texting or talking on a cellphone. Your brain is focused on several things such as the conversation, looking at the road, listening and so many other functions that it essentially sets your mind off in many directions. The fact that many use a Bluetooth or speaker phone as an alternative or what is called "hands free" is a myth because a person's visual and audio cues are still affected. Even though your hands are on the wheel, you are still distracted.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) Traffic Safety Division is working diligently to educate the traveling public on the dangers of distracted driving. Our media billboards have even shortened texting vernacular such as DNTXT, BKLUP and ENDWI as part of our media efforts which also include television and radio spots as well as outdoor and print ads. The State recently attempted to pass a statewide ban on texting and driving but it didn't pass. However some municipalities have local ordinances banning the practice.
As a state agency, NMDOT has banned talking/texting by employees on their cell phones while driving a state vehicle. Approximately 41 states have statewide bans on texting and driving and New Mexico is taking notice of the issue by educating the public and attempting to enact legislation banning texting and driving statewide. More than two-thirds of drivers in the United States reported being on their cellphone while driving in the past thirty days and I would be a hypocrite to say that I have not. However, now that I know the research, it is my duty as a public servant and a citizen to protect the lives of others by turning my phone off until I reach a safe destination.
As a state employee, it is important to educate the public, lawmakers, stakeholders and others about the dangers of distracted driving. The majority of the public does not see it as an issue because they've become desensitized to the importance of someone else's life. The conversation has become more important than just simply driving. It's time Americans put their phones away while they drive. The efficiency and usefulness of a smart phone does not outweigh a life. It's the right thing to do.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.
And if you'd like to share your story or observation, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.