Death by txt – Numbers show SMS and driving don’t mix


Most of us know that a distracted driver is a dangerous driver but now the numbers prove it conclusively.

The numbers comes from an analysis at the University of North Texas school of public health, published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study showed that 16,000 drivers were killed by handset use between 2001 and 2007. That’s over six people dying every day from cell phone related accidents.

Why is texting, or talking, while driving so dangerous and what are we doing to save those six lives needlessly lost every day?

Driver distractions – A recipe for disaster

Firstly why is cell phone handset use so dangerous, even fatal, for drivers? Probably the main reaso is because driving is a full-time job. And while the brain is an amazing thing it has its limits. There is only so much information it can cope with at any given moment (hence why no one can truly multi-task properly!) and it will deal with tasks in a more linear fashion than in parallel.

This means while you’re reading that text that’s just come flashed through on your phone and trying to understand the joke, your brain isn’t overly conscious of the fact that the car in front of you has had to come to a complete stop. We all know what happens next.

You might think you can handle reading a harmless text while driving but tests have shown otherwise. A study performed by Car and Driver magazine (unscientific by their own admission) compared braking results between normal driving, driving while reading a text, while writing a text and under the influence of several alcoholic drinks. The results threw up some surprises with texting worsening reaction times by 600% compared to someone impaired by alcohol. Reading texts was actually more dangerous than writing them. Even the “best” results for texting while driving still resulted in traveling an extra four feet than normal, which can be the difference between a near miss and a solid hit resulting in possibly injury or at least an expensive trip to the shop for your car.

Results courtesy of Car and Driver magazine

Of course, there’s every chance you might have texted or talked on the phone while driving many times before and nothing happened. Count yourself lucky. By continuing this practice you’re increasing the chances of being in an accident several hundred percent – those aren’t good odds.

Distracted drivers – what’s the solution?

Law makers are being persuaded to legislate against this dangerous practice, particularly in light of the growing evidence that talking or texting while using a mobile phone lead to an increase in accidents or accident-related deaths.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to police and the urge for drivers to ‘multi-task’ because of work pressures or running late override concern for their own safety or that it’s breaking the law.

Some other solutions put forward have included:

  • Block the signal – Blocking cellphone signals inside the car
  • Harsher punishments – Increasing the penalties if caught
  • Hands-free – Forcing the use of hands-free car kits (or forcing cellphone makers to include them as standard equipment)
  • Awareness – Increasing awareness of the dangers through advertising campaigns
  • Technology such as HUD displays – Making the technology easier to use (phones that display messages on the windscreen using heads-up display technology – potentially embarrassing if it’s a message from your MD with the results from ‘those’ tests)
  • Self-driving vehicles – Self-driving cars that use GPS to take over the role of responsible driver when the current one is distracted (some car makers have already introduced self-braking technology that automatically applies the brakes if the car is deemed to be approaching a solid object too quickly)

While there is no simple solution, the answer clearly lies in developing better technology to combat the problem for two important reasons. Firstly, it could be argued that technology created the problem in the first place so thus should be responsible for fixing it, and secondly, human behavior is a thousand times harder to change than technology.

Fleet managers – The answer is easy

For commercial drivers who use a fleet management system, the solution is simple. Rather than communicating with your drivers via a mobile phone handset, why not switch to 2-way messaging? Since it’s integrated with their GPS device, it’s less distracting, its interface is more driver-friendly (let’s face it; cellphones were not designed with drivers in mind) and can be setup with customized forms.

For example, Telogis Mobile™ allows head office to send through a standard yes/no form to all drivers. Rather than having to write a text to reply, the driver simply presses yes or no in response to the message. A lot quicker and a lot less distracting, and that’s safer for everyone.

What’s your opinion – is texting while driving dangerous?

Reduce fleet miles

8 Responses to “Death by txt – Numbers show SMS and driving don’t mix”

  1. Erik Wood Says:

    Business people need to ‘hit the ball over the net’. Teens consider it rude not to reply immediately to texts. Home schedules would grind to a halt without immediate communication. We are conditioned to pursue this level of efficiency but we are all supposed cease this behavior once we sit in our respective 5,000 pound pieces of steel and glass. Anyone can win an argument in a forum like this by saying “Just put the phone away” – but we can see its just not happening.

    I just read that 72% of teens text daily – many text more 3000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook – even with their professors. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and its not going away.

    I decided to do something about it after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver . Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple app for smartphones. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws.

    Erik Wood, owner
    OTTER app

  2. Jason Says:

    Great comment Erik, thanks for your input. You’re right – sometimes laws aren’t enough to modify people’s behavior. Well done for taking the initiative to do something about it.

  3. Erik Wood Says:

    I appreciate that and I thought it was appropriate to comment on this site, since our product is GPS based!

    Erik Wood, owner

  4. Mr. S Says:

    In reference to the “potentially embarrassing” texts shown on the windshield. Head up displays do not show the image on the windshield, rather it is projected to appear out by the bumper. The driver is the only person that can see it.

  5. Jason Says:

    Thanks for that. It makes more sense that it be projected somewhere only the driver can see. So maybe there is scope for a HUD to read out incoming text messages?

  6. Jason Says:

    It appears Microsoft are looking at including an option with their Embedded Automotive 7 software for drivers to read out texts for sending. That could help reduce the distraction factor.

  7. Erik Wood Says:

    @Jason – How can I be considered objective on the idea of Speech to Text? I invented an indirectly competing product. But as a father who was not in the industry and whose family had been effected by a texting driver, I researched many alternatives including Speech to Text. What I found was there is literally no one out there on the front lines of the texting while driving safety issue that thinks that ANY Speech to Text software is anything other that just another form of texting while driving? The user is still checking the software’s interpretation of their voice or following software prompts – still fumbling with technology instead of focusing on the 5,000 pounds of steel and glass they sitting in.

    Erik Wood, owner
    OTTER app

  8. Dayle Lucy Says:

    Yes. It should be illegal in ALL states. My friend’s uncle died by texting and driving, and drowned when he drove off a bridge.

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