Texting and Driving

In the News

A California resident was sentenced to six years in prison after killing a 46-year-old woman in an automobile wreck in August 2007. Investigators determined Deborah Matis-Engle was driving 66 mph and text messaging when she slammed into a group of vehicles stopped in a construction zone. The victim’s vehicle burst into flames and rescue crews were unable to pull her from the wreckage before the fire claimed her life.

Texting Statistics

According to CTIA – The Wireless Association, Americans sent 75 billion text messages every month in 2008. Additionally, research by Harris Interactive indicates 57% of people text while driving. Current trends show the amount of texting isn’t likely to fade either; cell phone users now send more than 350 texts each month, compared to only 200 traditional calls each month. The growing prominence of smartphones with email capabilities exacerbates these problems even further.

Minimizing Distraction

Researchers at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute determined 80% of all crashes, and 65% of near crashes, were caused because drivers were looking somewhere other than the road in front of them. This study validates the importance of minimizing distractions while behind the wheel.

After all, avoiding a crash is difficult enough even when a driver is alert. In fact, according to CNBC, a 2009 experiment with Car and Driver magazine showed texting while driving had a greater impact on safety than driving drunk. While driving drunk on a controlled road course, the stopping distance while driving 70 mph increased by 4 feet; by contrast, reading an e-mail added 36 feet, and sending a text added 70 feet. For these reasons, company policies and procedures should expressly prohibit text messaging.

Training Tools

As vehicles and technology become more advanced, the potential for distraction will become nearly unavoidable. Even technology meant to minimize distractions like Siri on the iPhone can be dangerous. Employees need to be constantly reminded to postpone cell phone calls and GPS use until they have either reached their destinations or pulled off of the road. Successfully enforcing these policies can be difficult. Many employers find value in shock-and-awe strategies; an abundance of horrifying auto wreck stories, photos and videos online, make this tactic inexpensive and effective.

In July 2009 the New York Times released an interactive tool designed to demonstrate the dangers of texting and driving. This online texting while driving exercise measures how your reaction time is affected by external distractions, and is a quick and effective method to shock even the most confident texter.

Texting While Driving Legislation

As if the threat of serious injury or death isn’t enough, employees may be interested to find dozens of states across the country have begun outlawing texting while driving. With the passage of an executive order in October 2009 now prohibiting all federal employees (roughly 4.5 million Americans including the military) from texting while driving, it is only a matter of time before similar laws are passed in all 50 states.

Map of Texting While Driving Laws

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Author: John Oliver+