Driving? Turn the Phone Off!

Andy

Driving is debatably the biggest public safety and public health issue of our nation. It is the leading cause of death among Americans ages 1 to 34, and the leading cause of long-term disability for all (McMillin, 2010). Statistically speaking, it is the single most dangerous activity most of us will do today. Skydiving or flying are insurmountably much safer activities, despite what our society believes. So why as a nation do we allow any mobile phone use in the car by the driver, something that drastically increases the probability of an automobile accident to persist?

As noted in the NYTimes article, “AT&T Chief Speaks Out on Texting at the Wheel”, research has shown that texting while driving increases ones risk of a crash beyond that of even an impaired driver with a 0.8 blood alcohol level (Richtel, 2012). A large majority of the population believes the BAC legal limit driving law to be a necessary piece of legislation. It only seems obvious to ban something more dangerous than something that is already banned.

Now some of you will say, texting is regulated in some states. This is obvious, however I’m wondering if we need a ban of total mobile phone use by the driver in the car. Plain and simple, mobile phones distract a driver in numerous ways. Manual manipulation of the phone such as texting or dialing significantly detracts from the time spent viewing the road. Unless you were blessed with the ability to use your two eyes independently, this presents a huge problem. In addition, there exist many distracting effects of the phone conversation through emotion or cognitive reasoning. Studies have shown that splitting cognition between two events greatly reduces the efficiency of any single activity. This is evidence to support the ban of total mobile phone use in the car, since the duration of a typical phone conversation can be up to two orders of magnitude greater than the time required to dial or answer the phone (Strayer, 2003).

Someone dies in a highway crash every 13 minutes (American Osteopathic Association). We must pass legislation that bans mobile phone and other electronic devices use while driving. Is even one life worth a text or phone call? What if that life was yours or your loved ones? The phone call can wait, especially if it’s your last.

Andy Mychkovsky is a first year HMP student at the School of Public Health.

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