Texting and Driving: What’s it worth?

I must admit that often times I’m guilty of texting and driving or even scrambling to activate my GPS. I generally don’t think much of it since I’m an experienced driver and have never been in an accident. But when I see anyone else texting and driving, it worries me. I fear that their possible lack of ability to multitask on the road can result in a fatal accident. I realize now that this is a ridiculous notion, I have never believed that I am smarter or more capable than the average Joe, so why do 77%of young adults claim they are at least somewhat confident that they can safely drive while texting, despite all we know about the negative consequences? blahhh

With so many new devices on the market that help in hands-free communication, why are we still texting and driving? We’re told time and time again the dangers of using our phones while driving but for some reason we can’t let go. Our smartphones have become our lifeline and we use them for absolutely everything. From banking to photography, social media and emails, we now have access to all the things we could do online, on our phones. About 8 in 10 Canadian smartphone users say they won’t leave their house without their phone; and of these, about ¾ reported that they’ve become so connected to their smartphone that they’d give up TV before having to part with their phones. Well of course they would, most smartphones today allow you to watch TV shows anyway! But this just shows how connected and consumed people are with their smartphones.

Impacts of Texting and Driving: Let’s talk numbers

Texting while driving has some obvious downfalls. For one, the driver is not nearly as focused on the road, as their attention is divided between whatever it is they’re doing on their phone and all the aspects that it takes to drive safely. The National Safety Council reported in July 2013 that nearly a ¼ of all car crashes involved cell phones. That’s crazy! In addition, if you’re texting and driving you’re 23 times more likely to get into an accident, compared to just 1.3 times more likely when talking or listening to someone.  These are numbers that are directly related to texting and driving. What if a driver who is texting swerves into another lane, causing another driver to collide with someone else? Teens who text and drive spend around 10% of their driving time outside of their own lane and are a danger to everyone on the road.

These all seem like obvious ramifications of texting and driving, right? Then why are we still engaging in this high-risk behaviour? We all know that it’s wrong but we still do it! I know that I get extremely uncomfortable when I’m in a car and the driver is texting. The worst is the excuses that they make in order to justify the behaviour. They say, “I’m way behind the person in front of me”, or “I only text when I’m at a red light.” The thing is, we all have this false sense of security, especially if we have not been in an accident before. It only takes one accident to potentially end your life. WQtwSo even if you stay far away from the person in front of you, if a scenario occurs where you have to break quickly, texting and driving will slow your break reaction speed by 18% and that could be the difference between life and death. Our social lives seem to be taking priority over our own safety and wellbeing. As a student, I’m guilty of not being able to tuck my phone away while I’m studying, for fear that I’ll miss a call or an “important” notification. It seems that the same goes for driving, our phones are constantly in arm’s reach.

Why Can’t We Stop Reaching For Our Phones?

Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry at ULCA says, “In a sense our brains are hardwired to text.” Hardwired to text, how can that be? Phones, and specifically smartphones, have only recently gained mass popularity in the past five years or so. Texting is certainly not an innate characteristic of human behaviour, so why can’t we let go of our phones? Dr. Small suggests that our need for human connection takes priority over what we know is the wrong thing to do. Dopamine circuits, the “feel good” area of our brain influences us to text, even while driving. Dr. Small adds that even though our frontal lobe is telling us not to do it, we come up with ways to ensure we don’t get caught; like holding our phones low in our laps, which actually makes it more dangerous. This statement could not be more true, I’m constantly witnessing people looking down to their laps while at a red light or even while driving. And I, myself, am also guilty of doing the same.

The Next Step

Now that we have some ideas about why we text and drive, what can be done about it? Even laws don’t seem to deter drivers from texting. In Ontario, texting and driving serves a $155 fine, that’s a lot of money, especially for a student like myself.   Technology exists where we can dial or receive calls through a Bluetooth headset, but these headsets can be expensive and still, many prefer to text to avoid potential confrontation on the phone.

There are many apps out there that can be downloaded such as DriveOFF or Drivemode, but these can easily be disabled. To a young adult, the urge to read a text from a friend may overpower the desire to drive without being distracted.

I believe there is only one way to ensure that texting and driving will decline and the solution already exists, it just needs to be enforced. In modern GPS car systems, you can only type in your desired location if the car is stopped. This same technology must be enforced in all phones if we truly want to reduce texting and driving use. Sure people will complain, even call it “unconstitutional”, but when you text and drive you don’t put just yourself at risk, you put everyone on the road at risk as well. We simply cannot have that. To me, texting and driving is comparable to smoking in a public building. If you want to smoke and put your health at risk, feel free, however it’s unacceptable to put other people’s lives at risk.

Origo

Origo is a Virginia based company that has developed what seems to be the best solution to preventing texting and driving. The company has designed a type of secondary ignition system that looks similar to an 8-track player. The way it works if fairly simply and actually quite ingenious. The phone must be inserted into the docking system before you’re able to turn on the car. If you decide to remove your phone from the dock while driving, an annoying buzzer will sound and the next time you try to start your vehicle, you’ll need an authorization code to do so.

This all seems great, especially for businesses that are responsible for their drivers on the road and for concerned parents. The downfall is the cost, the device itself as well as installation costs about $400.

This is an excellent start, but we can’t expect everyone to pay $400. Sure, for middle to upper class families this may seem worth it to protect their children, but I feel texting and driving can be stopped in a much simpler fashion. Origo may give teens the idea that their parents don’t trust their judgment, and business owners might not have the cash to install such technology in all their vehicles.

I believe the real solution lies somewhere in between car manufacturing and the current GPS systems in our smartphones. We have the technology, we simply need to get stricter laws and to draw more awareness to this growing concern.

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