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Hang up and drive!

Driving and talking on a cell phone is just as risky as driving while drunk.  When I realized this a few years ago, I stopped the habit.  I would never drive drunk?  So, why would I drive while talking on a cell phone?

More than 275 million Americans own cell phones; about 80 percent talk on a cell phone while driving.  A recent survey suggested that, at any given time, about 10 percent of drivers are talking on a cell phone while driving.

Meanwhile, we know that cell phone users have slower reaction times than a driver who’s drunk; their risk of a car crash is four times greater than a driver who’s not using their cell phone. And each year, nearly 30 percent of car crashes in the U.S. are caused by drivers talking on cell phones or texting.

Why would so many people engage in a behavior we know is so dangerous?  Here are some explanations:

  • Some people are unaware of the risk.  Although the data is out there, many don’t know how impaired they are when they drive and phone. Most people get it, it’s not safe to drive drunk.  And most people understand that texting and driving is a bad idea.  But many people don’t know that driving while talking on a cell phone is equivalent to driving drunk.
  • Some are in denial.  They’ve convinced themselves that they, unlike others, are good drivers.  So, they won’t get in an accident talking on their cell phone.
  • Some people get bored when they’re driving. So they talk on the phone to stay busy.
  • Finally, many people like to multitask.  They think they’re being efficient. They’re saving time.  Instead, they should be focused on saving lives.

When I talk with others about driving and phoning, common topics come up.

Many people think that hand-free phones are safer than hand-held phones.  But data clearly show that hands-free devices are no safer.  Drivers are just as distracted and just as impaired.

Many think that driving and texting is the real problem, not driving and talking on a cell phone.  And although the driving and texting is more dangerous than driving and phoning (the risk of a crash for someone driving and texting is 23 times greater than driving while not distracted), talking on a cell phone causes more accidents than texting.  This is because millions more talk than text.

Many question why driving and talking on a phone is more dangerous than talking to a passenger in the car.  First, when driving and phoning, you’re often manipulating a phone.  Second, studies have shown that brain cells or neurons work differently depending on whether drivers are talking on a phone or talking to a passenger. Finally, passengers in the car, unlike cell phone conversations, can make the driver more aware of changing road conditions and can stop the conversation if needed

There are several steps we must take to eliminate driving and phoning. As we approach this problem as a society, we can learn from the successes of the stop drunk driving campaign.

  • Educate
  • Legislate
  • Create a new safety culture and message using peer pressure – it’s not okay to drive and phone
  • Share personal stories about people harmed by distracted drivers

Remember – driving and phoning is equivalent to driving drunk. It’s not okay to drive drunk.  It’s also not okay to drive and phone.  So, my best advice: hang up and drive.

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