Texting While Driving 6X More Dangerous than Talking

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A University of Utah study tells us something we should already know: That texting while driving is six times more dangerous than talking on a handset while driving.This is a message that has eluded many, but we can help.

I keep seeing people who are texting while driving during the workday in vehicles with company names painted on them. So, it must be time for a safety reminder, one I hope our always safety-first PCW Business Center readers will share around the office.

Here's the gist:

Researchers used a driving simulator to measure reaction times. The participants "drove" down the road, following another vehicle. They tended to follow too closely and when the other vehicle braked, tended not to respond very quickly. Crashes sometimes occurred as a result. In real life, injuries and deaths would follow.

If you'd like a copy of the study results, you can download a PDF for free from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, which published the study.

The only qualm I have with the report is that the average age of the 40 participants was 21, when I know lots of older people text while in motion--I see them frequently. Let's not stereotype kids as the only unsafe drivers.

In one of my other lives, I spend a lot of time with our local ambulance crews. Over my years as a news reporter, have seen things I hope never happen to you or your family. If you want a reminder of what you are missing, the old driver's ed safety film, Signal 30, is available for viewing on YouTube or for free downloading from the Internet Archive.

Dragnet's Jack Webb also gave a compelling demonstration--using photographs--of what happens during the first second of a 55-mph collision, the last 3/10ths of which nobody in the car survived. No, they don't make safety films like they used to, though it seems like we need them as much as ever.

Sure, cars are safer now than when the Signal 30 was filmed 50 years ago, but only if we use the safety features available to us.

You'd think people would have gotten the word on seat belts and shoulder restraints by now, yet a shocking number of people are still dying because they aren't used.

If the idea of being thrown from your car and then being crushed when it rolls over you is appealing, be my guest.

Or don't use a child seat and have your toddler shoot out of the back window of the family van. Sure, there weren't any other seats available, so the kid was in the back, and it was a short trip. And now the kid is dead.

Texting and cellular use while driving are almost as senseless. Yes, I know phones ring and text messages appear while we drive, but use a hands-free device (which helps some) and avoid the temptation to read-and-respond with one hand on the wheel.

And did I mention drinking-and-driving? Or how you--the sober one--could be the only thing standing between a drunk friend and death?

It happened last New Year's, about 3 a.m., driving the wrong way on the Interstate near my home. The head-on collision killed five, three in the other car. The at-fault driver had just left a party with too much alcohol on-board.

A bad wreck? The responding firefighters and EMTs were sent to counseling afterwards.

As volunteer EMT and husband to someone who still has occasional nightmares about a wreck she responded to three years ago, I am using this column as a means to drag you in for a safety reminder and apologize for doing so.

Yet, I've learned that life is more fragile than we'd like to think. It's a message I have to share, especially around the holidays.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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