By Carla MillsCarla Mills is a licensed and accredited Nurse Practitioner who has been a practicing clinician for more than 20 years. She is the author of A Nurse Practitioner’s Guide to Smart Health Choices, an easy to understand, medical reference guide for patients with no prior medical knowledge. Read her blog at maverickhealth.com.
I know, it is not you—it is always the other guy. I want to talk about a serious health risk that more than 80% of us admit to engaging in—talking on a cell phone or texting while driving. How much faith do you have in yourself as a driver?
And how much faith do you have in other drivers? I’m betting that you believe you are more competent than most of the drivers with whom you share the road. Be honest—am I right? I think it is human nature to find ourselves more competent than everyone else on the road, but when I scrutinize that belief, it just does not hold up. So “let’s get real” for a minute about the dangers of multitasking while driving an automobile.
A View from the Emergency Room
I spent many years of my career in emergency rooms, so I have seen firsthand the damage a human body can suffer in an automobile collision. Back before there were laws requiring seat belts, there were many more (and much worse) injuries than after the law was enacted and enforced. I have seen so many people—often young and beautiful—who were permanently disfigured or killed, just because they were not wearing seat belts. But cell phones scare me even more.
The thing about accidents is this—after they have happened, you cannot take them back. And most accidents are preventable. But that is only if you recognize and respect risks and avoid taking them before something bad happens.
Using a Cell Phone or Texting While behind the Wheel
More than 50 scientific studies have identified risks involved in driving while using a cell phone.
You are four times more likely to be involved in a car crash if you use a cell phone while you are driving.
Driver inattention is responsible for 80% of all crashes. Because cell phones are used so much, they are the leading cause of driver distraction.
Hands-free devices do not make cell phones any safer.
Talking to a passenger in your car is not the same as talking on a cell phone.
Because passengers riding with you are aware of your surroundings, they can see your circumstances. Not only are they are less distracting, they may even alert you to potential dangers.
Texting while driving is even riskier than talking on a cell phone because it requires that you take your eyes off the road. Really—do you think you can do this safely?
The View from My Driver’s Seat
It seems as if everyone I pass on my way to the office most mornings has a cell phone plastered to his or her ear. Others are applying makeup, shaving, eating, or even reading the paper. It seems that everyone is preoccupied with something other than attending to the business at hand—negotiating a potentially deadly vehicle, often moving at a high rate of speed, through congested roads filled with other potentially deadly vehicles being driven by equally distracted drivers.
When driving, I try to keep away from drivers on cell phones because I know they are not paying attention to what is going on around them. I see them moving down the road, and their driving pattern makes it clear that they are oblivious to what is going on around them. It is terrifying!
Only eight states and Washington, DC, prohibit or will soon prohibit cell phone use by all drivers. The states include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington.
However, these bans are limited to hand-held cell phones. Some other states prohibit cell phone use by young drivers and school bus drivers.
Currently 30 states and Washington, DC, either prohibit or have passed legislation that will soon prohibit texting while driving; 11 of these laws were enacted in 2010. The states include Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. This ban will become effective in Wisconsin in December of 2010 and in Delaware in January of 2011.
What We Say about Ourselves
In a survey of about 2500 people conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in 2008, four out of five drivers surveyed rated drivers who use cell phones as either a serious or extremely serious traffic-safety problem. Of those surveyed, 46% admitted they used a cell phone while driving at least occasionally.
So, while we do not trust others to use cell phones while driving, we see ourselves as more capable. Since we perceive ourselves as superior creatures with talents and capabilities above those of other mere mortals, we do not feel at risk nor do we believe we put others at risk the way all those other “less capable” drivers do. This makes no sense at all. We all need to start using our common sense in order to keep ourselves, our passengers, and others sharing the road with us safe.
Ask yourself very honestly, do you really believe that the laws of human nature do not apply to you? Acquiring a driver’s license is a rite of passage into adulthood. Where cell phones and driving are concerned, however, we act like children playing with matches. Sooner or later we are going to get burned.
A Proposed Solution
I propose that we all, regardless of our age, start acting like responsible adults by policing our own behavior and stopping cell phone use when we are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. I further propose that we ask legislators in all the states to pass strict laws that ban cell phone use and texting when driving. This would protect the rest of us from those unwilling to police themselves. Let us make it the law in all 50 states—just like we did with seat belts— and then let us enforce the law!
If you receive a call on your cell phone or if you need to make a call, please pull off the road and get out of traffic first. And those of you doing your makeup and shaving—please finish dressing before you leave home so you can keep your eyes on the road. Thanks.What are your comments? Does anyone share my fears and frustrations? For those of you who disagree, does what I say not make sense?
Cell phone use while driving fact sheet from the National Safety Council. Available at http://downloads.nsc.org/pdf/Distracted_Driving_Fact_Sheet_2009_v2.pdf
Cell phone driving laws from the Governors Highway Safety Association. Available at www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html
Cell Phones and Driving: Research Update, December, 2008. Available at www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/cellphonesanddrivingreport.pdf