At some point after a car accident occurs, many will speculate whether the wreck could have been prevented. Increasingly, the answer is yes. Car wrecks caused by distracted driving—in particular, texting while driving—are on the rise. These accidents, along with the resulting devastation, are preventable and yet, far too often, distracted driving is causing death and injury.
How often? According to the National Safety Council, almost 100,000 times per year, drivers who were texting caused vehicular damage, life-changing injuries, and even deaths.
Texting while driving is a problem that has quickly grown into a full-blown national epidemic. Unfortunately, although many drivers know that texting while driving can be dangerous, too many drivers fail to actually grasp the seriousness of the effects in a wreck. Numerous polls have revealed that although most people, especially teens, acknowledge that this is dangerous, too many drivers admit to texting while driving anyway. It is vital that we increase drivers’ awareness to the catastrophic effects of texting while driving and find a solution to this inconsistency to prevent future tragedies.
Certainly, texting is a convenient, efficient, and popular method of communication across many age groups, but this is especially true when it comes to teens. Texting while driving, however, is both dangerous and nearly irresistible for many, particularly young, less experienced drivers. Unfortunately, in a recent national poll conducted by AT&T, 43 percent of teens admit to texting while driving, and 75 percent characterize texting while driving as “common” among their friends. Yet in that same poll, 97 percent of teens say that they know texting and driving is dangerous.
Many choose to think of the practice of texting while driving as a harmless look at a phone in between glances at the road, instead of realizing that texting while driving is a serious safety problem on our roadways. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found that sending or receiving a text resulted in an average 4.6 second period in which a driver’s eyes were not focused on the road. That amount of time might not seem significant, but at 55 mph, 4.6 seconds is the same amount of time it takes to travel the length of a football field. No one would agree to drive that distance blindfolded, yet every day, drivers do just that when they text and drive. In those seconds when a driver’s focus is misplaced by a text, lives can be destroyed—and, with alarming frequency, that is exactly what’s happening.
That’s why, as a former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, I am pleased to lend my support to AT&T’s “It Can Wait” public awareness campaign that aims to stop the practice of texting while driving. More information, along with statistics and videos featuring Americans who have been affected by texting-while-driving tragedies, can be found at itcanwait.com. Additionally, all drivers are being encouraged to take the no-texting-and-driving pledge on “It Can Wait” website to help bring awareness to this issue.
Too many people text while driving, even those who know that it’s not safe and are aware of the dangers, because they mistakenly believe they can beat the odds. But the odds are stacked against them: A texting driver is23 times more likely to be in a wreck than a non-texting driver. There is simply no such thing as safe texting while driving, and it is critical that all drivers understand that.
It is my sincere hope that initiatives like the “It Can Wait” campaign, coupled with the development of more technology solutions will save lives. These senseless tragedies devastate family and friends, and even end lives — but they can be prevented, and this national epidemic can end. Do your part to stop this epidemic from spreading even further, and consider taking the AT&T pledge to take your stand against these senseless and preventable tragedies.
Norman Y. Mineta is the Former US Secretary of Transportation.